Image: Nuns walk near bombed bus placed in front of West Bank barrier
Kevin Frayer  /  AP
Nuns walk past an Israeli bus, destroyed in Sunday's suicide bombing and placed next to a section of the separation barrier, in the West Bank village of Abu Dis on Tuesday.
updated 2/25/2004 12:26:08 PM ET 2004-02-25T17:26:08

The Arab League delivered a scathing attack Wednesday against Israel’s separation barrier, saying the structure is a violation of international law and suggesting its architects be arrested.

The 22-member group’s testimony highlighted the third and final day of testimony before the International Court of Justice, which is examining the legality of the barrier.

Israel, which says the barrier is for self defense, has avoided the hearings. It says the structure is a matter for negotiations, not a courtroom, and has questioned the fairness of the forum. All of the 15 countries and organizations testifying this week support the Palestinian case.

The Arab League echoed efforts by other participants this week to put the spotlight not only on the West Bank barrier, but on Israel’s 37-year occupation of the Palestinian territories.

Michael Bothe, head of the Arab League’s legal team, told the justices that the barrier goes well beyond security concerns. He said the barrier is meant to lead “consolidation of the unlawful Israeli settlements” in the West Bank while making life “burdensome, even impossible” for Palestinians.

“The true purpose of the wall is ... not legitimate. It is a means to change the legal status quo of the occupied territories,” Bothe said.

“The wall does not stand between terrorists and potential victims. It stands between the farmer and his land, between the employee and his employer, between the merchant and client, between child and school ... between patient and doctor, between the faithful and his or her holy places,” Bothe said.

'Grave breach' of law
Describing the barrier as a “grave breach” of international law governing occupied lands, he suggested that those responsible for the structure be brought to justice.

“All state parties are thus obliged to prosecute offenders which happen to find themselves within their power or to extradite them to a state willing to prosecute them.”

Such a scenario is extremely unlikely. The court’s opinions are nonbinding. But as the United Nations’ highest legal authority, its rulings are influential and could have diplomatic consequences.

The court usually takes months to issue a decision.

During Wednesday’s session, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, a grouping of 57 Muslim countries also took aim at Israel.

French lawyer Monique Chemillier-Gendreau, counsel for the group, said suicide bombings and other attacks against Israel should not be viewed in a vacuum. “They have to be linked to the far more bloody terror by Israel against the Palestinians since its founding,” she said.

On Tuesday, Jordan led the attack on the barrier, arguing the structure threatens the kingdom’s stability.

Jordan fears the barrier will make life so hard for Palestinians that they will flee into the neighboring kingdom, straining its resources and upsetting a delicate demographic balance.

The hearings began Monday, a day after a Palestinian suicide bomber in Jerusalem killed eight people. Israel has pointed to the attack and other suicide bombings as proof of the need for the barrier.

Wall could stretch 450 miles
The U.N. General Assembly asked the world court in December to give an advisory opinion on the barrier’s legality.

Israel has built about one-fourth of the structure, a series of walls, fences, razor wire and trenches that could stretch 450 miles when completed. It has not made a decision on the final route and has said the structure could be dismantled if there is peace.

The Palestinians say the barrier, which dips into the West Bank, is causing hardship for tens of thousands of their people and will make it impossible to establish an independent state alongside Israel.

The United States and European countries have stayed away, agreeing with Israel that the court is not the proper venue for the dispute.

In a newspaper interview published Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon denounced the hearings as “a campaign of hypocrisy” and pledged to complete construction of the barrier.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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