Arguments rage outside court

Before the first gavel had swung at The Hague hearings into Israel's controversial separation barrier, demonstrators in front of the imposing Peace Palace were scenting a sea change among Europe's political opinion formers.

    Anti and pro-barrier protesters gathered outside the court

    The scores of pro-Israeli protesters who had rallied outside the Palace in the morning were outnumbered in the afternoon by more than a thousand exuberant Palestinian supporters.

    Mustafa al-Barghuti, the director of the Palestinian National Initiative, said the significance of the case on world public opinion should not be underestimated.

    "We are at the beginning of an important process, which is very similar to the campaign against apartheid in South Africa," he told

    "Then, it was a legal decision about Namibia which sparked the boycott campaign that eventually led to the collapse of the South African political system. I believe that now, we are flowing in the same stream". 

    The judges at the International Court of Justice are widely expected to rule against Israel, but their decision will not be legally binding. Any decision to refer the case back to the UN Security Council could easily be thwarted by a US veto.

    Pariah state

    However, campaigners believe a legal ruling in Europe could accelerate a growing perception of Israel as a pariah state on the continent. This, they say, would galvanise their campaign for sanctions.

    Gretta Duisenberg, the wife of Wim Duisenberg, the chief of the European Central bank until last November, said that she saw signs the process was already well advanced.

    The 'apartheid wall' makes life
    unbearable for Palestinians

    "The political atmosphere is beginning to change," she told "In Italy, Belgium and England it is already changing. Now it is time for the EU to end the Association treaty. The treaty gives Israel preferential trade treatment." 

    Duisenberg added she understood the reasons for Palestinian rage. "If I were to squeeze your throat so tightly that you could not breathe what would you do, kick me?" she asked.

    "That is what is happening to the Palestinians. They have nothing. They are humiliated. They have lost their houses, their jobs, their land."

    "Palestinian mothers can't even have their babies because they can't get to hospital. They have no arms. What would you do?", she asked. 

    "I would like to throw stones, I must tell you!"

    Pro-Israel demonstrators

    To the pro-Israel demonstrators who had rallied outside the Peace Palace in icy winds earlier that morning, such sentiments would have been little short of an incitement to terrorism.  

    Supporters of barrier also made
    their voices heard 

    In an emotional protest, Arnold Roth was one of those who had travelled from Jerusalem to tell journalists about his 15-year-old daughter, Malka. She was killed in a bomb attack on a Jerusalem bus in August 2001.

    "People who don't understand the terror won't understand the responses," he said. "If there is a fence, there is another step to keeping the terrorists away from my family".

    Roth said his daughter's death had taught him to do everything possible to protect his children. But he did not feel anything in common with civilian Palestinian families who had suffered similar losses.


    "If there would be such families, I would feel a strong bond," he told, "but there are none. There has never in the history in the state of Israel been a Palestinian family who has been murdered by a comparable act of hate-filled terror."

    "Do I feel bad about the disruption to the lives of Palestinians that is caused by this fence? Yes I do. But I would ask you not to compare the murder of my child with the inability of a Palestinian family to get to work by 9 o'clock"

    Arnold Roth,
    Pro-Israel demonstrator

    "Do I feel bad about the disruption to the lives of Palestinians that is caused by this fence? Yes I do. But I would ask you not to compare the murder of my child with the inability of a Palestinian family to get to work by 9 o'clock."

    The centrepiece of the pro-Israel protest was a wall decorated in sunflowers that spelled out the word "Defence" and imported wreckage of a Number 19 bus which was blown up in Jerusalem last month, killing 10 people.

    Yaron Heirofsky, a 30-year-old paramedic from Haifa told while the decision to bring the bus was taken "way over my head," he thought it illustrated the reality of such attacks.

    "A picture speaks a thousand words," he said. "Reality is hard and sometimes people would prefer not to look at it full on."

    Legal status

    However, the head of the Palestinian popular delegation, Jamal Jamaa, expressed dismay at what he said were strong emotional tactics aimed at undermining logical arguments about the legal status of the barrier.

    "It is intended to take the media's attention and de-legitimise what the court is about," he said.

    Israel's foreign ministry spokesman, Gideon Meir, said the real provocations came from the West Bank and Gaza.

    Demonstrations were held at the
    barrier, against its construction

    "If the Palestinians had been less involved in terrorism, they might have ended the tragedy of their own people," he said. "They are engaging with the Court of Justice in The Hague instead of engaging with the peace process".

    Meir told he was in The Hague to present Israel's case. But he defended Tel Aviv's decision not to attend the hearing itself.

    "What is happening inside is totally unimportant," he claimed. But it was important enough for Meir to attend the protest outside, and for the wreckage of a bombed bus to be imported as its centrepiece. 

    Meir denied claims the Israeli embassy had been involved in financing the action.

    "There is no budget from the Israeli government to finance something like this," he said. "It comes from the Jewish community all over the world and from the Christian community in Holland. It comes from the heart."


    Other protesters also spoke from the heart.  One said his family's tragedy at Auschwitz helped explain the need for the separation barrier. Another railed at anti-Semitism directed against the pro-barrier protesters.

    "Many Jews have not learned the right lessons from Auschwitz ... they interpret 'never again' to apply only to Jews whereas it should apply to everybody"

    Hajo Meyer,
    Jewish writer

    But there was no Holocaust denial, Jewish conspiracy theories or equations of Zionism with Nazism, from the pro-Palestinian protesters.

    Hajo Meyer, an 80-year-old Jewish writer originally from Germany who had fled to Amsterdam as a refugee in 1939 said he had also been inspired by injustices from the war-time period.

    "Many Jews have not learned the right lessons from Auschwitz," he told "They interpret 'Never Again' to apply only to Jews whereas it should apply to everybody."

    "I am against any infringement of a person's rights based on the grounds of race or ethnic belonging." 

    Meyer would presumably know. He lost both his parents in the Holocaust.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera


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