Echoes of South Africa?

by Nick Dearden

The combination of rock stars and politicians normally means a good but non-controversial cause is at hand, as the great and the good line-up to pay lip service to global poverty or the environment or something equally worthy. But until recently you would not expect the cool and the influential to come together for an issue as divisive as the Israel-Palestine conflict.

In erecting the Apartheid Wall, Ariel Sharon has inadvertently brought to fruition a worldwide campaign of opposition to Israeli state racism.

In erecting the Apartheid Wall, Ariel Sharon has inadvertently brought to fruition a worldwide campaign of opposition to Israeli state racism.

But so violent is the record of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and so symbolically backward-looking the wall currently bull-dozing its way through the illegally-occupied Palestinian Territories, that it seems Palestine may be emerging as an issue to rival the anti-apartheid movement in its appeal to a base level sense of justice and injustice. From the anti-globalisation kids in Palestinian scarves at the world social forum, to the impeccably-educated former Ambassadors openly criticising Blair for jeopardising “peace in the Holy Land”, Palestine is the central component of malcontent with the New World Order.

On 8th July, one day before the International Court of Justice ruled the Israeli wall illegal under international law, Roger Waters, ex-member of super group Pink Floyd, launched ?the Writings on the Wall? campaign with his most famous line “we don?t need no thought control”. From Glastonbury festival to Parliament Square, radical anti-poverty charity War on Want has asked stars of stage and soap box to voice their protest at the construction of Israel?s Separation Wall, by graffiti-ing their names on a 24-foot model of the real thing. Other launch signatories include Mayor of London Ken Livingstone, a host of MPs including former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, and stars including Jerry Dammers (The Specials), Shane MacGowan (The Pogues), Damien Rice, Kosheen and Billy Bragg.

The Ruling

On 9th July the highest legal body in the UN system declared by 14-1 that the wall contradicted humanitarian and international law, that construction must be halted, that sections already built in the Occupied Territories must be dismantled and that reparations must be paid to Palestinians for damage already caused. Significantly the Court ruled that the wall violated the Palestinians right to self-determination, a point which the Israeli?s have argued for years was never explicit in UN resolutions passed on the conflict. And even the USA judge, who was the lone dissenter from the main ruling, never said the wall was legal, rather that the Court did not have the right to intervene in this matter.

The ICJ ruling is a landmark and validates everything campaigners have argued. The real purpose is a ?land grab? ? an attempt by Israel to create ?facts on the ground? which will pre-judge any settlement on the two-state solution that most of the international community now favours. While the idea of the wall began as a policy of the Israeli Labour Party, its route has caused more international outrage than any other aspect of Israel?s occupation policy. Even the World Bank has strongly opposed the Wall?s construction saying: “under consideration is a unilateral and unplanned step of Israel, as a substitute to negotiations”.

The question now is whether the ruling is squandered by western intransigence ? like the ruling against USA action in Nicaragua in 1986 which the USA simply dismissed; whether it will be held up for years as a symbol of justice but without effective action ? like the ruling against South African occupation of Namibia in 1971; or whether the international community will actually do something to fight for adherence to the international law.

The Wall

The Wall which has caused so much upset is actually a collection of concrete, electric fences, ditches, razor wire, electronic monitoring system, patrol roads, and a no-go buffer zone ? 150 feet wide and soon to be twice as long and, in places, three times as high the Berlin Wall. Aid agencies are agreed that the wall is bound to exacerbate poverty and what?s left of the Palestinian economy. Already two thirds of Palestinians have dropped below the poverty line, living what the United Nations agency describes as having the effect of “a terrible natural disaster”.

The wall, at a cost of at least $1 billion, will effect 270,000 Palestinians in the West Bank and a further 200,000 in East Jerusalem ? cutting kids from schools, the ill from hospitals, farmers from their lands, and families from each other. While only 125 miles of 430-miles has been constructed, already many thousands of people are trapped either in enclaves for which they need permits to leave, or in a no-man?s land between the Wall and Israel. 20,000 people have been separated from their agricultural land (Palestinian Environmental NGOs Network). Hundreds of houses have been destroyed and fruit trees uprooted.

The Israeli government, describing the barrier as a fence, claim it?s needed for security ? to keep suicide bombers out. But that doesn?t explain why 90% of its path is built on illegally occupied land, at points cutting deep into Palestine, and trapping thousands between the Palestinian side and the Green Line (Israel?s internationally-accepted border). Why would a security fence leave so many of the people you are supposedly protecting yourself from, on your side of the fence? In addition over 140,000 illegal Israeli settlers in 56 settlements have also been incorporated on the Israeli side of the wall alongside these Palestinians they supposedly need protection from (UN OCHA).

This is exactly the line the ICJ took, that the wall could not be justified in the name of security. In doing this it went well beyond the Israeli High Court ruling on 30th June that the Wall had to change one specific section of its path as the planned route “severely violated the right of the population and their freedom of movement … their livelihood is severely impaired … these injuries are not proportionate.” In effect the ICJ decision ruled that this missed the, bigger picture, that the whole wall severely violated freedom of movement.

Israel, the USA and the UK

Ariel Sharon?s position is now clear ? construction of the wall will continue and he intends to persuade as many ?relevant? (western) countries to vote against action in support of the ruling. Although the USA is bound to veto any Security Council resolution ? the only forum which can effectively sanction action ? how European governments vote in the General Assembly will be crucial in deciding whether or not this ruling is effective.

The USA position is deep seated. The administration?s comments are actually moderate ? criticising only the Court?s right to rule in the case ? in comparison with the plethora of Representatives who seemed ready to invade the Hague so great was their disgust at “fraud and a perversion of justice” (Rep. Tom Lantos). John Kerry went further than Bush, saying “Israel’s fence is a legitimate response to terror that only exists in response to the wave of terror attacks against Israel.”

Much will hang on the UK?s role, and we are already off the bad start. In January the British government wrote to the ICJ opposing its jurisdiction in this matter, after the UN General Assembly asked the Court for its legal opinion. Campaigners thought it a bit rich that after years of the British government telling the Palestinians to take up their grievances through peaceful and legal means, it immediately tried to block them doing just that. But it comes after years of a classic British “balanced approach” towards the conflict ? doubling of arms to Sharon?s government on the one hand, telling the disempowered Palestinian Authority that it has to crack down on suicide bombers on the other.

Five days after the Court?s ruling the Foreign & Commonwealth Office had still not issued a statement, despite managing to get a press release out, on Sunday, condemning a Tel Aviv bomb attack and telling the Palestinian Authority to crack down on militants. As tragic as the death of the person who died in the attack was, it is no less tragic than the death of 14 Palestinians and the demolition of 20 homes that same weekend, rendering another 200 civilians homeless. This inability to see the historical and political context of the violence explains the British government?s refusal to take even the most basic action in undermining that violence.

The Future

The Court?s ruling should give countries like ours pause for thought. It also stated that any countries aiding Israel?s current policy is also in breech of international law, and that any country party to the Forth Geneva Convention has a legal duty to ensure compliance with their ruling. This also suggests corporate involvement in the construction of the wall being open to legal challenge in the West ? again an echo of the anti-apartheid activities in the 1980s. Prominent parliamentarian Gerald Kaufman, long-time friend of Israel, wrote an article in the Guardian on 12th July calling for sanctions on Israel, citing not just South Africa, but the tactical sanctions used by George Bush Senior, when he suspended $10 billion in loan guarantees to Yitzhak Shamir?s government, which forced that government to the peace table in Madrid.

The temperature is hotting up for Israel right across the world ? through exactly the sort of peaceful mass movements that ultimately changed the system in South Africa. Days before the ruling a member of the Israeli Knesset (Parliament), Azmi Bishara, declared he was going on hunger strike to “tell the world about the serious damage and dreadful suffering the wall is causing for hundreds and thousands of people”. He was joined by other hunger strikers in the town of Ar-Ram, which the separation wall is about to cut off from Jerusalem. The hunger strikers have called on peaceful popular and civil struggle against the wall right across the world.

It is up to us to answer this call. The ICJ ruling against the South African occupation of Namibia in 1971 did not translate immediately into mass support for the anti-apartheid movement ? the ANC remained “terrorists” in the mainstream for many years. But the ruling did provide the international framework ? as well as a symbol of hope ? which eventually lead to the sanctions regime. The ICJ has turned everything that was controversial into fact. The fall of South African apartheid show how quickly things can change. Make sure you don?t stay silent this time.

Published Tuesday, July 27th, 2004 - 02:54pm GMT

Article courtesy of the Palestine Chronicle

For more information on ?The Writings on the Wall? ? and pictures of celebrities signing the model wall ? got to the War on Want Palestine Campaign

Add your message to the wall by visiting the Writings on the Wall Campaign

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