The Guardian 20 July, 2005

Protests against illegal wall

Mark Almberg

Protests rocked several Palestinian villages and towns on July 9 to mark the first anniversary of the World Court ruling that Israel's "separation barrier" is illegal and should be dismantled. At least one Palestinian, a 15-year-old boy, was shot dead by Israeli troops, and many more were injured.

In the small village of Bil'in, near Ramallah in the West Bank, about 150 people, half Palestinian and half Israeli, marched to the future site of a segment of the "apartheid wall", reported Marcy Newman in About one-third of the 8.4 metre high, 611 kilometre long concrete and barbed-wire "fence" along the border of Israel and the West Bank, has been erected since 2002. Construction continues despite the International Court of Justice ruling on July 9, 2004.

Newman, legislative coordinator for the US Campaign to End the Occupation in Idaho's 2nd Congressional District, said the demonstrators, chanting peaceful slogans in Arabic, English and Hebrew, were met by Israeli troops in full riot gear.

During the hour and a half protest, she said, "The entire time it was clear that the Israeli Army was just looking for an excuse to attack us." Suddenly the troops opened fire with tear gas, sound bombs and rubber bullets. The demonstrators emphatically denied the Israeli Army's claim that a Molotov cocktail had been thrown at them.

Muheeb Ahmad Assi, 15, was among those struck by a bullet. He was pronounced dead at the scene. According to another reporter at the scene, Laila El-Haddad, "Palestinians were not allowed near the teen until over an hour had passed, by which point Assi had bled to death." The youth was the son of the village's leader of the Popular Committee Against the Wall (PCAW).

At least two other Palestinian youths were struck by rubber bullets, including Ramzi Yassin, 22, who was in a critical condition with internal bleeding after a bullet hit his head.

The Bil'in demonstration was attended by Palestinian leaders and elected officials, grassroots Palestinian groups, Israeli Knesset members and members of the International Solidarity Movement. Members of Israeli peace groups, like Gush Shalom and Taayush, were also present.

Bil'in has held nearly 50 demonstrations since February 2005. Abadallah Abo-Rahma, founder of PCAW, told Al-Jazeera: "Our message, simply, is 'no to the barrier'.

"The wall is a catastrophe that has befallen our village, and on our people as a whole", he said. "It takes half the land of our village. Our village is so small so there is not much left."

The Israeli government claims it needs a "security fence" to keep out terrorists, but Palestinians say the wall's real purpose is to grab more Palestinian land and to shift population demographics in Israel's favour. The wall has separated Palestinian families from their workplaces, olive and citrus groves, schools, hospitals, and relatives; and destroyed many of their homes.

A year ago the World Court, based in the Hague, The Netherlands, ruled that the wall was illegal, that Israel should dismantle the segments already built and pay reparations to the Palestinian families whose homes and fields had been confiscated. The advisory ruling also urged the governments and business entities of third countries, including US firms like Caterpillar, to cease supporting Israel's violations of international law.

Not only has the Israeli government refused to comply, it has actually increased the tempo of construction. On July 10 Israeli ministers said that about 55,000 Palestinians would be cut off from Jerusalem by building the wall there.

The announcement was denounced by Palestinian Authority Planning Minister Ghassan Khatib, who said, "This wall is creating irreversible negative effects. It affects human rights as well as accessibility to workplaces, freedom of movement that cannot be compensated by whatever measures Israel is talking about."

In a related development, citing Israel's refusal to abide by the World Court's decision and its policy of "ethnic cleansing," a group of 106 Palestinian unions, community groups, rights groups and cultural organisations on July 9 called on "people of conscience" worldwide to "impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era".

It said such "non-violent, punitive measures" should continue until Israel ends its occupation of Palestinian land, dismantles the wall, ends discrimination against Arab citizens of Israel, and respects the right of displaced Palestinians to return.

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