NEW YORK - February 23 - The construction, route and operation of Israel's separation barrier inside the West Bank violate international human rights and humanitarian law, Human Rights Watch said in a briefing paper released today.
Today the International Court of Justice, the United Nations' main judicial organ, begins hearings on the barrier in The Hague in response to the U.N. General Assembly's request for an advisory opinion on the legal consequences of the barrier.
The Israeli government has argued that the separation barrier is necessary to prevent Palestinian suicide bombings-and other attacks against civilians-originating in the West Bank.
"Israel has a right and duty to protect its civilians from attack, but it must not use means that entail indiscriminate punishment of entire communities," said Joe Stork, acting executive director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch. "Israel's separation barrier seriously impedes Palestinian access to essentials of civilian life, such as work, education and medical care."
The Human Rights Watch briefing paper argues that the barrier imposes arbitrary and excessive restrictions on the freedom of movement of tens of thousands of Palestinians and violates Israel's obligation under the Geneva Conventions to ensure the welfare of the population under occupation. The route of the barrier, moreover, is designed to incorporate and make contiguous with Israel the civilian settlements that have been constructed over the past three decades.
"The settlements violate the Geneva Conventions' prohibition against transfers of population and have gravely affected Palestinian access to basics like employment, land and water," Stork said. "The separation barrier further encroaches on the land and resources of the West Bank with the aim of consolidating this illegal enterprise."
Human Rights Watch takes no position on the Israeli-Palestinian territorial dispute, but monitors abuses against civilian populations by all sides in the conflict. The organization has condemned Palestinian suicide bombings and other systematic attacks that target civilians as crimes against humanity.
The briefing paper can be found at http://hrw.org/english/docs/2004/02/20/isrlpa7581.htm