Tel Aviv bombing adds deadly injury to insult of The Hague ruling on barrier

tel aviv | The International Court of Justice may have ruled it illegal, but Israel’s West Bank security barrier has at least one new supporter.

For Sammy Masrawa, it was more baptism by fire than conversion, after he witnessed a bombing that killed an Israeli woman and wounded at least 20 others in Tel Aviv on Sunday, July 11.

“I am an Arab from Jaffa, a leftist, and I was opposed to the separation fence until today,” said Masrawa, who suffered minor injuries in the attack at a downtown bus stop. “But the terrorists do not distinguish between Jews and Arabs. After what I saw today, I hope to set up a lobby in favor of the fence.”

The al-Aksa Brigade, the terrorist wing of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah faction, said its men planted the bomb, which they detonated by remote control, to avenge Israel’s killing of its leaders. The blast was the first terrorist attack in Tel Aviv in more than six months. It left Bat Yam resident Sgt. Ma’ayan Nayim, 19, dead.

For Israeli government officials, the attack added deadly injury to the insult of the July 9 ruling at the International Court of Justice in The Hague that the fence is illegal and must be dismantled.

“This morning’s act of murder is the first to have occurred under the auspices of the opinion of the International Court of Justice in The Hague,” Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said at Sunday, July 11’s Cabinet meeting. “I want to make it clear: The state of Israel completely rejects the international court’s opinion. This is a one-sided opinion based solely on political considerations. The opinion completely ignores the reason for the construction of the security fence: murderous Palestinian terrorism.”

Though it’s only partially complete, the fence already has saved thousands of lives, Israeli officials said, noting the dramatic decrease in successful Palestinian terrorist attacks since construction of the fence began.

Israel argues that the fence is a legitimate means of self-defense and that the court had no jurisdiction to rule on what is essentially a political conflict.

The key question is to what extent the court’s ruling might aggravate Israel’s isolation on the international stage. Israeli officials see the Palestinian appeal to the court as part of a longstanding strategy to delegitimize the Jewish state and bring it to its knees through international ostracism. The idea is to have Israel stigmatized as a pariah state, much the way South Africa was before the collapse of the apartheid regime.

Indeed, calling the fence the “apartheid wall” — as Palestinians and their supporters often do — is an overt attempt to associate Israel with the old South Africa.

The first major success of this Palestinian strategy was the 1975 U.N. resolution denigrating Zionism as racism. That resolution was overturned in December 1991, after the launch of the Madrid peace process.

When peacemaking bogged down a decade later, the Palestinians resurrected their strategy, scoring a success at the U.N. World Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa in August-September 2001. Now they have followed it up with the ICJ ruling.

But there’s a difference. The anti-Zionism campaign sought to delegitimize the founding principle of Jewish statehood, but the attack on the fence aims to delegitimize Israel through its occupation of supposedly Palestinian territory.

That can cut two ways, however. It may be harder for Israel to defend against accusations of occupation, but that critique carries within it an implicit recognition of Israel’s right to exist within its pre-1967 borders.

Israel’s battle now will focus mainly on Europe. With Palestinians hoping to translate the ICJ ruling into anti-Israel measures at the United Nations, European and American support will be important in the General Assembly and, even more so, in the Security Council.

The General Assembly sent the issue of the fence to the court last December, asking it to prepare an advisory opinion on the “legal consequences arising from the construction of the wall in the Occupied Palestinian territory.”

At press time, the General Assembly was scheduled to vote on a resolution that would call on Israel to dismantle the barrier.

Israel’s own Supreme Court has ruled that the government must strike a better balance between legitimate defense needs and Palestinian human rights. It questioned the route chosen in several areas, and more complaints are under consideration.

Despite Sharon’s forthright rejection of the ICJ’s decision, he remains bound by whatever the Israeli Supreme Court rules. And, in anticipation of further Supreme Court decisions, Israel is considering rerouting some unbuilt portions closer to the Green Line, causing far less disruption to Palestinian life — while, some fear, providing less security for Israelis.

Israel will say the measures were taken in deference to its own Supreme Court, but such moves also might help placate the international community.

Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report.