The International Court of Justice has ruled that the separation barrier Israel is constructing in the occupied West Bank is illegal. The decision affirms the reality that this is a conflict between an occupier and an occupied. ThePalestinians are fighting to end a 37-year-long military occupation.

The matrix of concrete walls and coils of barbed wire that the Court ruledis “illegal” and must be dismantled is illegal because Israel isconstructing it on occupied lands. The court rejected Israel’s argument,which was presented in an affidavit to the court, that these territoriescannot be considered “occupied territories”. The route of the barrier hasless to do with “security considerations” and more with what thisoccupation has always been about: brazen colonialism.

At the end of the day, the Israeli government could not get away with theargument that it is obliged to, as Henry Seigman, chairman of the American Jewish Congress laconically noted: “steal more Palestinian land to protect Israelis living on previously stolen Palestinian land.”

The Court’s ruling noted the illegality of Israel’s settlements in theWest Bank, which are home to over 370,000 Jewish settlers. The Israeligovernment has repeatedly pledged to hold on to the largest settlementblocs in the West Bank, which house 80 per cent of the settlers, in the event ofany peace treaty with the Palestinians. These are the “realities on theground”, these settlements that were established for Jewish use only onconfiscated Palestinian lands, that George Bush famously said must remain,a statement that the Democratic presidential candidate John Kerryrepeated.

The court rejected Israel’s argument that the route of the barrier is based on “security considerations.” It was the settlers, andtheir patrons in the Israeli government and the military, who dictated theroute of the barrier.

The court dismissed Israel’s argument that the Palestinians had broughtthe barrier onto themselves.The Israeli argument invoked the principle: maxim nullus commodum caperepotest de injuria sua propria — no one can take advantage of his wrongdoing. The Court’s decision noted that it convened at the request of theGeneral Assembly, not the Palestinians.

But it upheld the maxim, which was ironically invoked by the Israeligovernment, against Israel’s separation barrier. The suffering the barrierhas caused for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, cutting them offfrom their lands, enclosing them in open air prisons and requiring them topossess special permits to reside in their own lands cannot be justified asa necessary defence.

The Palestinian revolt against the occupation will soon enter its fifthyear. The Israeli military has set up hundreds of checkpoints on everyroad leading into and out of every Palestinian city and town. Palestiniansregularly spend days on end under curfew, and months under closure.Demonstrators have been killed indiscriminately, as in the notoriousattack in May 2004 when an Israeli tank fired a shell in the midst of ademonstration in Rafah, killing seven unarmed demonstrators. At the time,George Bush remarked: “Israel has defended itself with skill and heroism.”

After every breach of international law, Israel has claimed the right ofself-defence. As with the checkpoints, the curfews and the closures, thebarrier is not about security. It is intended to “sear deep into theconsciousness of Palestinians that they are a defeated people”, as theIsraeli Defense Forceâe(TM)s Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon described the strategy of the army hecommands.

Israel is waging a campaign for its settlements in the West Bank, whichhave continuously expanded since the first settlement was established inSeptember 1967, three months after Israel conquered the West Bank andGaza. This is Israel’s last “frontier war”, its last attempt to “roundout” its borders. But instead of a stake, it is planting an entire complexof walls, trenches and fences.

The Court dealt specifically with the separation barrier, as it wasmandated by the General Assembly. But it did review a number of truths:the Palestinians are under a military occupation, and Israel is denyingthem self-determination.

This barrier is only one egregious aspect of this systematic denial ofPalestinian self-determination. In response to the Court’s decision, theIsraeli Foreign Ministry is insisting that the barrier is no “wall”, butfor the most part “a chain link fence.” Would that Moshe Dayan, Israel’sDefence Minister in 1967, be alive today to hear this. Soon after the IDFconquered the West Bank and Gaza, Dayan recommended that the Palestiniansbe told “you shall continue to live like dogs.”

Today, the Israeli government can find nothing better than the claim thatits barrier is merely “a chain link fence”, as if the West Bank were akennel for two million dogs. If the truth were to be told, a Palestinianliving under the occupation today is not defined as a human by themilitary administration that rules the territories. Humans have rights;essential, non-negotiable rights, which are all enshrined in thedeclarations and protocols Israel has signed. No human has to be told thather rights will come once the Palestinians “are a defeated people”, andare willing to “negotiate” their surrender.

The Court’s ruling concluded by saying that every country that is party to the Fourth Geneva Conventionmust “ensure compliance by Israel with international humanitarian law asembodied in that Convention.” This encouragement that Israel is receivingfrom the governments of the U.S. and Canada, as well as the othergovernments that will refuse to act on the Court’s ruling, is criminal.