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Palestinian Authority Brings Case On West Bank Wall to Int’l Court

By Gregory Crouch

The New York Times -- THE HAGUE

An international court opened a hearing on Monday into the Israeli barrier being built in and around the West Bank, as pro-Palestinian demonstrators here voiced encouragement and worried supporters of Israel looked on.

In a three-hour presentation to the International Court of Justice, the Palestinian Authority argued that the partially-built barrier of barbed wire, ditches, watch posts and concrete walls is both a violation of international law and an attempt to annex Palestinian land.

Israel dismissed Palestinian assertions as the first-day of the hearing drew to a close, saying the barrier is a necessary bulwark against suicide bombers and falls within the legal definition of self-defense.

“Alongside the quality of life of Palestinians, we have to weigh the right to life for Israelis,” said Daniel Taub, an Israeli government legal advisor. “And what we have to do is find the appropriate balance between the two.”

Nasser al-Kidwa, the Palestinians’ permanent observer to the United Nations, who made the opening remarks to the court, said the barrier was blocking any chance for a better future.

“If completed, it will wall in most of the Palestinian people and will end the possibility of a two-state solution and thus end the chance of peace in the region,” Kidwa said in an interview after the Palestinian presentation.

The World Court is slated to continue its hearing for two more days.

The U.N. General Assembly has asked the court for a nonbinding, advisory opinion about the legal consequences of the barrier’s construction.

Israel filed a written submission to the court but will not appear before it, contending the court lacks the jurisdiction to rule in the matter.

“The court has been asked to pass judgment on a country’s response to terrorism but not on the terrorists themselves,” said Taub.

The legal proceedings topped an emotional day that saw Palestinian and Israeli organizations carrying out silent marches and noisy demonstrations.

Press photographers clamored to board the burned out wreckage of a Jerusalem passenger bus flown in as a backdrop for the demonstrations. An El Al luggage tag was still affixed to the bus’ bent and scarred frame.

Pro-Israeli organizations staged a silent march through city streets here that featured the photographs of nearly 1,000 victims of terrorism-related acts, including Rachel Koren Galran’s two sons and husband.

All three were killed nearly two years ago in the suicide bombing of a Haifa restaurant.

“I’m here today to scream my pain to the world,” said Galran, 50, adding that a barrier back then might have saved her family. Then again, maybe it would not have, she continued, but she believes it’s worth a try.

“If we can make peace, we can remove it,” she said.

Pro-Palestinian organizations came together at the courthouse in the afternoon for a separate rally, shouting along the way that “this wall must fall.”

The barrier has cut off a number of Palestinians from their farms and families.

“This wall is the incarnation, the embodiment, of racism and apartheid,” Azmi Bishara, an Arab legislator in the Israeli Parliament, told a crowd of several thousand.