Guest Editorial: Pressman on The Wall
Today we feature two guest editorials on the Israeli security wall, which is being built largely on Palestinian territory and involves a de facto unilateral annexation of that territory, hurting innocent Palestinian townspeople and farmers who see their property bifurcated. The World Court at the Hague has now ruled against the Wall, with the main objection being that it hasn’t been built on Israeli soil. The United Nations General Assembly had been expected to take the matter up on Monday but the discussion was postponed until Tuesday. The first of our comments below is by Jeremy Pressman of the University of Connecticut.
by Jeremy Pressman
Since the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued its ruling on the separation fence on July 9, 2004, Israel has emphasized one central point: the court failed to focus on the central problem, Palestinian terrorism. This was the approach in the New York Times op-ed page (July 13):
In the last four years, Palestinian terrorists have attacked Israel’s buses, cafes, discos and pizza shops, murdering 1,000 of our citizens. Despite this unprecedented savagery, the court’s 60-page opinion mentions terrorism only twice, and only in citations of Israel’s own position on the fence. Because the court’s decision makes a mockery of Israel’s right to defend itself, the government of Israel will ignore it. Israel will never sacrifice Jewish life on the debased altar of “international justice.”
Is that a fair reading of the court opinion? I don’t think so.
I think Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians are both immoral and counter-productive. (The Court opposed them as well: “The Court would emphasize that both Israel and Palestine are under an obligation scrupulously to observe the rules of international humanitarian law, one of the paramount purposes of which is to protect civilian life.”) The day Palestinians put aside violence and engage in mass civil disobedience to the exclusion of violence, a genuine two-state solution will be at hand (let me leave aside the complex Israeli-Palestinian story as to why that has not happened).
That said, the ICJ ruling accepts Israel’s right to fight terrorist attacks. In
fact, it explicitly calls on Israelis to defend themselves within the bounds of
international law: 141. The fact remains that Israel has to face numerous indiscriminate and deadly acts of violence against its civilian population. It has the right, and indeed the duty, to respond in order to protect the life of its citizens. The measures taken are bound nonetheless to remain in conformity with applicable international law.
One would not know that from Netanyahu’s op-ed – and there are other examples too, like section nine of his “Declaration”)
I am reminded, too, that Palestinian quality of life issues will always seem minor compared to Israeli life/death. When the question is phrased as he arrived late to work but she lost her son in a terror attack, the answer is always clear. (“The fence may not be convenient, but it doesn’t kill people,” said Ehud Olmert, Israel’s deputy prime minister) I think that is the wrong question to frame the issue. Better to look at the loss of life on both sides in order to understand the meaning of the wall, the occupation, and the continuing conflict.
– Jeremy Pressman