Before I built a wall I’d
like to know
-- Robert Frost
On July 9, 2004, fourteen of the fifteen Justices on the International Court of Justice delivered an ‘advisory opinion’ on Israel’s apartheid barrier that accurately reflects the world’s growing moral outrage against Israel’s determination to push the Palestinians to the wall and beyond. Appropriately – and yet, to our shame – the only contrary opinion was rendered by Justice Thomas Buergenthal, an American.
The Justices declared that the wall being built by Israel, “the occupying Power, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around Jerusalem, and its associated régime, are contrary to international law.”
The Justices informed Israel that it is “under an obligation” to stop work on the wall, dismantle those portions of the wall that have been built, annul the legislative régime erected to support its construction, and render compensation for the damage it has already inflicted on the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.
Finally, the Justices called upon the United Nations – especially the General Assembly and the Security Council – to “consider what further action is required to bring to an end the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall and the associated régime, taking due account of the present Advisory Opinion.”
In these dark times, when American power has tied itself irrevocably – for the foreseeable future – to every Zionist aim against the Palestinians, be it ever so indefensible, the moral clarity of these judicial opinions will bring hope and encouragement to ordinary humans who do not always find it easy to sustain their struggle in the face of new oligarchies that practice their dark craft in the name of the men and women they trample upon methodically. Countering concerted pressure from the United States and its allies, the fourteen Justices, five from the European Union, have decided to apply the universal principles of justice to the actions of an Occupation that in its malicious intent, its devastating effects, its lengthening history, and its potential for fueling wars has no parallels in recent times.
Yet, as predictably as it is tragic, the Zionists in Israel and their allies in the United States -– both Christians and Jews -– have responded to ICJ’s ‘advisory opinion’ with hollow clichés that carry little conviction except with a segment of Americans, some of whom are avowed Christian Zionists, others white supremacists, but most have been coaxed into hating Palestinians by a media that is both mendacious and malicious in the ways in which it constructs the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The Palestinians are terrorists and anti-Semites to boot; the Israelis, under threat and in peril, are their innocent victims.
In editorials and speeches ringing across Israel and America, a thousand apologists are protesting that beleaguered Israel is building a ‘security fence’ -– not a wall -– whose only purpose is to safeguard innocent Israeli civilians against the primordial violence of Palestinians. In the columns of the New York Times, of July 13 2004, a former Israeli Prime Minister, explains that this “security barrier” is “temporary,” it extends into “less than 12 percent of the West Bank,” and it does not kill Palestinians, it merely harms their “quality of life” while saving Israeli lives. The unsophisticate that he is, the Israeli Prime Minister of course cannot appreciate that a ‘reduced’ quality of life easily feeds into higher mortality. There are smarter ways of killing than in death camps with poison gases.
If the League of Nations, in the early stages of the Nazi campaign of ethnic cleansing, had had the moral courage to ask the Permanent Court of International Justice -- the predecessor to the ICJ -- to pass judgment on the legality of this campaign that, at this stage, included the herding of Jews into concentration camps, how might the Nazis have responded to an ‘advisory opinion’ that declared the herding of Jews to be in violation of international law and called the Nazis to immediately cease such actions?
The Nazis might have chosen one of several arguments in their defense. Given the overt racism of the times, they could have appealed to their historical right -- as communicated by the World Spirit -- to exclusive ownership of the German Deutschland; the Jewish interlopers in Germany had to be removed to make room for the original and rightful owners. Had they taken a defensive line, they might argue that the ‘relocation’ of Jews was a temporary measure, undertaken in the face of clear intelligence of British plans to use Jews as a fifth column in their war against Germany. Alternatively, they might claim that this was a humanitarian move, gathering Jews into districts set apart for them and where they would be free to observe the halacha, which they had been unable to do in the past. They were only making amends for past lapses. And, of course, they might have claimed that the Justices were ganging up against them, singling them out, driven by a new wave of anti-Germanism fomented by the British and Americans.
There is a terrible irony in the chorus of loud Zionist condemnations that have greeted the ICJ’s ruling. To the eternal shame of the times, when the Jews were being herded into the concentration camps -- where most of them would die -- they had very little help from the Allied powers, the self-designated keepers of world conscience. The United States closed its doors to Jewish immigration. Certainly, there were no rulings from the Permanent Court on the barbarity of German plans of genocide. Bitterly, and justifiably, the Jews have accused the world of letting them die in the Nazi terror. No Courts, no governments offered effective support, material or moral.
No one came to the support of the Palestinians either, as the British awarded their country to the Zionists, as the British after occupying Palestine allowed European Jews to settle the country, form militias, and prepare to drive out the Palestinians. No Western publics raised a voice when 800,000 Palestinians were terrorized into fleeing their homes in 1948 and stripped of their right to return. No Western publics supported the Palestinians when they began to resist the Israeli occupation of West Bank and Gaza. Instead, taking the cue from Israel, the Western powers branded the Palestinians as terrorists, and refused to recognize their existence as a people. The moral indignation of the Western publics has only been aroused in the past decade, starting with the First Intifada, which revealed the brutal face of the Israeli Occupation, crushing, pulverizing, expropriating a mostly unarmed people.
Yet the Zionists today relentlessly accuse these Western publics of anti-Semitism, of singling them out because they are Jews. For too long, the Zionists have acted with impunity against the Palestinians, because they have succeeded in using the Holocaust to shield themselves against the censure of Western publics. That makes the Occupation a perfect crime, without any perpetrators. Better yet: the perpetrators became the primary victims of those they victimize.
However, lately, world conscience has been stirring, waking up to the insufferable conditions imposed upon Palestinians by the Israeli Occupation. World conscience is affirming itself in a hundred ways: in the Internationals who risk death to stop the demolition of Palestinian homes; in the willingness of the Belgian Court to try Ariel Sharon for war crimes; in the reminders by South Africans that this Occupation is worse than the Apartheid they had endured; in the academics who initiated a movement to boycott Israeli academics; in the students protesting investments in the Israeli economy; in the world-wide marches, protests and activism against the Israeli Occupation. And now the International Court of Justice has spoken, loudly and clearly, against Israel’s apartheid wall.
Indeed, increasing numbers of Israelis are speaking out -- even members of their armed forces, those who have seen the ugliness of the Occupation at first hand because they were its direct enforcers. Hundreds of Israeli soldiers have refused to ‘serve’ in the West Bank and Gaza, risking jail sentences. Other Jewish voices are being raised, warning that Israel is losing its soul, that the Occupation is brutalizing young Israeli men and women, who then brutalize their families, their spouses, their children. Increasingly, Israeli soldiers are taking their own lives. This is not a distant colonial Occupation, thousands of miles away from the European home base, that could be held down by a handful of soldiers and hired natives. Every Israeli -- indeed a large segment of world Jewry -- participates in this Occupation.
Is there a danger that the world may to begin to look upon Israel as the moral equivalent in our own times of a Nazi Germany? This ‘moral equivalence in our times’ does not require that Israel duplicate all the crimes of Nazi Germany. Instead, the world will be asking if, relative to the morality and the constraints of our times, Israel has gone as far as Nazi Germany did in more barbarous times, when the extermination of ‘inferior races’ was regarded as the right of White Europeans.
It would appear that as Israel builds the apartheid barrier whose intent is to wall the Palestinians in, sealing them inside a few miserable Bantustans, it is simultaneously building another wall, invisible but no less solid in construction, that is walling Israel out, disconnecting it from the human community, its laws, its hopes and its sympathies. Increasingly, in the years ahead, the world will be asking this question unless it can see an end to the Israeli Occupation in sight.
Other Articles by M. Shahid Alam
A Comic Apology