The bus bombing in Jerusalem cast a dark pall over The Hague as the town readied itself for the opening of the world court tribunal into Israel's "separation wall".
All day, pro-Palestinian and Israeli protesters had been arriving in the town to play their part in the increasingly heated PR battle which will spill out on to the streets on Monday, when the judges at the Peace Palace begin their deliberations.
But there was only one subject on people’s lips today.
Azmi Bishara, the Arab Knesset member and leader of the Balad party, who was in town for the hearings told Aljazeera.net he was saddened by the latest attack on civilians in the Middle East.
“It is the worst thing that could have happened in terms of the battle for public opinion,” he said. “But these attacks, which are so hurtful to innocent people, have nothing to do with the Palestinian argument against the wall.”
“Actions against civilians only help the Israelis to make life more severe for Palestinians. But it also has to be said that a week ago, 15 Palestinians were killed by Israeli attacks in Gaza and no one cared.”
Another senior Palestinian figure, Mustafa Barghuti, the director of the Palestinian National Initiative, agreed the timing of the bombing could not have been worse. But he also drew political lessons.
“I feel angry because the bombing was wrong,” he said. “It was not necessary. The whole world was respecting our self-restraint after what Israeli did in Gaza. We declared that we wanted a ceasefire and that Israel was the party which violated it all the time.
“What happened has proved again, if the launch of the Geneva Accord did not settle the issue last time, that we need unified leadership and strategy. We cannot have three different lines at the same time,” he told Aljazeera.net.
In The Hague, on Monday at least, the lines of argument will be focussed, even if one of the parties, Israel, is boycotting proceedings. Many observers believe that it will lose the case.
The issue was first referred to the International Court of Justice in December when the United Nations General Assembly asked the judges to “urgently render an advisory position” on the building of the wall.
Israel’s position is that the court has no jurisdiction over its territory and that anyway, the route of the wall has been determined by "military and operational considerations".
Palestinians counter the wall is in breach of Article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. This describes the extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity, and carried out unlawfully and wantonly as “a grave breach”.
Many Palestinians say they will accept a wall built along the 4 June Green Line that ended the Six Day War in 1967, but that the current route deviates to appropriate an estimated 58% of the existing West Bank.
Two Palestinian farmers who had travelled to make their voices heard to a world media often deaf to their concerns, told Aljazeera.net what the construction of the wall had meant for them.
"These attacks, which are so hurtful to innocent people, have nothing to do with the Palestinian argument against the wall”
Arab Knesset Member and leader of the Balad party
Fayiz Udah, a 45-year-old father of five, said that in Tulkarim district, 46% of the land had been stolen by the wall’s route, including water wells.
“I had a farm of 32 dunums and employed 10 families working in the fields,” he said. “But when they began confiscating land to build the wall, I was not able to save any of it. They demolished my irrigation network and destroyed the greenhouses.
“Before the wall was built, I earned 10,000 shekels ($2000) a month. Now I am dependent on humanitarian aid, and so are my former employees.”
Sharif Umar from Jayus, a small town near Qalqilya, was animated as he jabbed a calloused figure at a West Bank map of colourful blotches and patchwork green and blue lines to show where he lived.
“I had 75 dunums of farmland behind the wall but all of it was seized when construction of the wall began,” he said. “I farmed olives, figs, citrus, avocado, walnuts and apricot.
“It was paradise but after they fixed the Jayus Gate, I thought they would never let me back if I left, so I decided to live in a shed on the land.”
For weeks, Sharif tried to avoid losing his holding by only visiting his wife on the Jewish Sabbath, Friday night. But after leaving for Paris, where he had been invited to speak at the European Social Forum last November, he was not allowed back in.
“I tried to get back in through the Gate 10 times but even journalists cannot pass through it now,” he told Aljazeera.net. “I am dependent on the people I employed who are still on the other side of the wall.”
The farmers said the tragedy in Jerusalem would not affect their resolve to protest against the discriminatory treatment which had robbed them of their livelihoods.
On the other side of The Hague though, pro-Israel protesters also said that they would go ahead with their demonstrations.
These will include parading the wreckage of a Number 19 bus which was destroyed in a suicide bombing in Jerusalem last month.
“Today’s bombing was horrific but I don’t know that it will have an effect. Israelis are suffering from suicide bombings every day and I think that the mood is already set,” said Irith Markens, spokesperson for the Centre for Documentation and Information Israel (CIDI), which is co-ordinating the action.
“We are not demonstrating in favour of the wall, we are demonstrating against the case being heard by the World Court. It is a political issue not a legal one.”
First day sympathy
Despite the polarisation that has accompanied the build up to the first day of hearings, Markens said she was not unsympathetic to the Palestinians’ case against what she called "the fence".
“I personally don’t think that the route of the fence is right,” she told Aljazeera.net. “It should be more considerate to the Palestinians but Israelis themselves are changing it every day. There is even discussion about putting the fence on wheels.”
Bishara though was not moved by such talk. “This just shows how absurd and ridiculous the Israeli position has become,” he said. “The 4 June 1967 border is not on wheels, everyone knows where it is.
“Any other route is an assault on the civil and human rights of Palestinians."