07/09/2004, 00.00
israel - palestine
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The International Court of Justice in The Hague rules against Wall

Political decisions remain the purview of the United Nations. The Court upholds open access to the Holy Sites. Fr. David Jaeger, Franciscan in the Holy Land, speaks on the matter

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – In exercising its authority, the International Court of Justice  (ICJ) affirmed its jurisdiction in the matter and its right to rule on the legality of the wall separating Israel from the Occupied Territories It began outlying the terms of its decision today at 3 p.m.


Begun in 2002, the wall is seen by Israel as a defensive barrier. Israeli officials have pointed out that because of the wall terrorist attacks have dropped by 90% in the last few months. Palestinians retort that the wall is being largely built on occupied land and is making their lives difficult, if not impossible.


The Court's decision was read by the President, Chinese judge Shi Jiuyong, in a session that lasted two hours. Sources from the European Union as well as Israel and Palestine had already leaked some information, and as the leaks predicted, the Court found the barrier "contrary to international law" and called for its dismantlement.  Palestinians whose land was expropriated for building the wall should receive compensation for damages suffered.


Israel's Justice Minister Yosef Lapid stated that the Jewish State would not accept the decision of the Court. Palestinians instead praise the decision as an "historic victory."


In order to fully appreciate the significance of the ICJ's decision, AsiaNews asked Father David Jaeger for his opinion. Father Jaeger is a Franciscan of the Holy Land Custody and a well-known legal scholar and Middle East expert. His views are especially important since Israel has promised to guarantee open access to the Holy Sights under its control.


What is the significance of the ICJ decision?

The Court's decisions are often a source of a widespread misunderstanding. Such decisions do not come at the end of a trial; they are not verdicts; they are just legal opinions. In the wall case, it is a legal opinion that the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) pursuant to its Statutes and those of the Court. The Court reached an opinion and made it public. Thus, the legal part of the issue is done and over. What is left is the political phase which goes back to the UN.


What impact will the ruling have?

It all depends on what the UN will do or not do. Interestingly, the ICG's decision came in the wake of that of Israel's Supreme Court. A few days ago, it ordered its own government to change the alignment of the wall in order to reduce its impact on the lives of the people living on the West Bank.


What changes with the ICJ decision?

The Court did not rule on any dispute between Israel and Palestine. The opinion is not about Israel or Palestine but was made on behalf of the UN. Once the UN makes a decision, that is to say, if it wants to make one, Israel can respond. But the UN can decide not to decide. If it does decide to pass a resolution making demands on Israel, it is possible that it may not demand all that is in the Court's opinion.


And what is your own opinion?

The Court's opinion was expected and was no big surprise. What matters to me are the sections about the Holy Sites. The wall's alignment heavily disrupts movements to and fro the Mount of Olives. The wall cuts across Bethany ((al-Azariyeh, Editor's Note), especially the Sanctuary of St. Lazarus, just outside of Jerusalem cutting it off from the traditional pilgrims' route from Jerusalem. This is a problem for the Catholic Church. Many US Congressmen and women, traditionally pro-Israel, have asked several times that the wall alignment be changed in this area. Irrespective of the Court's or the UN's decision, I sincerely hope that Israel ponders over where it puts the wall on the Mount of Olives. That way we can keep all sanctuaries and holy sights together.

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