PRESS CONFERENCE BY ISRAEL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
9 July 2004
“This is a dark day for the International Court of Justice and the international legal system”, Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations said today, just hours after the Court ruled that the controversial Israeli-built security barrier in the West Bank was illegal and should be torn down.
At a Headquarters press conference this afternoon, Dan Gillerman denounced the decision, telling reporters that by failing to address the “indiscriminate and murderous campaign of Palestinian terrorism” against Israelis, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) had been “taken for a ride” and abused by the “forces of evil” that were trying to derail a real move towards peace in the Middle East.
The 15-judge Court said that the 450-mile long system of walls and fences in the occupied PalestinianTerritory “gravely” infringed on the rights of Palestinians, could not be justified by military needs or national security, and violated international law. Israel also was ordered to pay reparations to Palestinians harmed by the barrier and return land seized to construct it. Though the widely anticipated advisory decision is non-binding, 14 of the 15 judges suggested that the Security Council and the General Assembly should consider further action.
Insisting that the barrier was a temporary security measure to stave off suicide bombers, Ambassador Gillerman said the Court had missed the “essence” of the problem. “This is the fence that Arafat built [and it] will remain as long as Arafat’s terror reigns”, he said. It was appalling and shocking that the Court’s 60-plus page decision had missed the essence of the problem. Israel would have no choice but to defend its citizens as long as terrorism continued. “This is our moral and legal obligation”, he said.
To a reporter who reminded him that the Court’s decision did indeed address Israel’s security concerns, Ambassador Gillerman acknowledged that while there was a “fleeting and vague reference” to Israel’s right to defend itself, it came nowhere near to describing the true horror and magnitude of the phenomenon of suicide bombings, which the Israeli people faced every day and which the fence was in place to stop.
The ICJ is the United Nations highest judicial body, and since the Assembly originally requested the advisory opinion last December, it had received written arguments from more than 40 countries. Calling the process that led up to today’s ruling “politically motivated” and flawed from the beginning, Mr. Gillerman said Israel, and more than 30 leading democracies, had argued that the Court did not have the authority to deal with political disputes between Israel and the Palestinians.
Asserting that Palestinian terrorism had claimed the lives of nearly 1,000 Israelis in over 20,000 attacks during the last three and a half years, Mr. Gillerman said that no country would just “lie back and take” the consequences
of such an evil campaign. Indeed, he argued that since the barrier had been erected, the number of casualties had been dramatically reduced: suicide bombings had dropped by some 90 per cent, the number of people killed by 70 per cent, and the number of wounded had fallen by 80 per cent.
“So the fence works. It saves lives”, he said, adding that the barrier was also reversible, but lost lives could not be regained.
Pressed by reporters to answer charges that, by dismissing the Court’s decision, Israel was ignoring international law, Mr. Gillerman said that Israel respected international law, as well as the rights of its neighbours, but the decision had virtually ignored its right to protect itself. The decision had “placed the victims of terror on trial rather than the terrorists themselves.”
Israel had sought a balance between the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people and its own safety and security concerns. More importantly, the recent decision of the Israeli Supreme Court -- which alone had the right to rule on such matters -- had called on the Sharon Government to halt the erection of the fence in certain areas and to dismantle it in others. Unlike the ICJ’s ruling, the Israeli high court’s decision had been binding and had been immediately acted upon by the Government and the army.
He said that, meanwhile, the Government had unilaterally embarked on the “courageous” initiative to totally disengage from the Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank. Everyone should focus on that, rather than on the ICJ decision, which cast doubt on the international community’s ability to be helpful in that process. “Any interference is likely to derail us from the road to peace”, he added, calling on all nations not to be diverted by the Courts opinion and to help support the disengagement plan and the window of opportunity it provided.
He also urged nations that cared about peace to look at the wider picture rather than be a part of the hijacking and abuse of the Court and the General Assembly or the Security Council, when the issue was brought to those bodies perhaps as early as next week. He said that Israel anticipated that the Palestinian side would continue its political campaign in the Assembly, to bring more attention to the issue and obfuscate the fact that the opinion was not binding on Israel in any way.
The solution was in Ramallah and Gaza, not in The Hague and Manhattan, he said. The only way to end the dispute between the two sides -- including over the fence -- was through direct negotiations, as stipulated by Security Council resolutions and the “Road Map” peace plan. He called on the Palestinian side to end its “campaign of terrorism” and return to the path of negotiations.
Another reporter asked why Israel could not build the wall on its own lands. Ambassador Gillerman stressed that the fence was a security barrier, and not a political one, particularly since it ran along a line dictated by Israeli security forces. If Israel had erected the fence along the so-called international border -- or Green line -- that might very well be considered a political statement.
Israel would continue to reiterate that the fence was a temporary measure, and not political, he continued, stressing that it would be taken down “the minute a negotiated settlement was reached”. The only thing that dictated the fence’s route was the security needs of the Israeli people.
Here he added that, along with the decrease in terrorist attacks, another important side effect of the barrier had been a dramatic increase in the quality of life and humanitarian situation of Palestinians in the areas through which it ran. Admitting that that might sound strange to some, it was indeed true that over 40 roadblocks had been taken down in areas that had been previously controlled by the Israeli army. Moreover, as terrorists had been forced to relocate, whole areas that had been under their control were now thriving. By example, he said that Jenin was now a free, thriving city, with villagers cultivating the land and business were up and running.
When a reporter suggested that those claims might ring hollow to the majority of Palestinians living in the occupied territories, Ambassador Gillerman said that he hoped that at the end of the day, logic and fairness would prevail. The world was thankfully showing less and less tolerance towards terrorism, and it was clear that the situation on the ground was that Israel was trying to defend itself from that scourge.
Responding to another query he said that if the Palestinian side were allowed to succeed in the Assembly, it might set a very dangerous precedent for many countries in the world by turning political matters into judicial issues that were ruled upon by outside organizations. He added that Israel was not concerned about the possibility of sanctions, because, again, the ICJ decision was non-binding and the world would understand that Israel was fighting terrorism.
Lest anyone think that Israel was showing disregard for the ICJ, he said there had been many other countries that had respectfully heard the decision of the Court and had respectfully not acted upon its rulings.
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