Human Rights Watch has been known over the years to soften its punches when it came to criticizing Israel. Hence, this Open Letter to the would be Democratic Party presidential candidate for 2008, Hillary Clinton, represents, I believe, an important breakthrough for HRW and should receive the widest circulation and women's organizations that are certain to support her candidacy should be put on notice now. HRW should also receive letters (as well as contributions) of support for taking a political stand that required a great deal of courage and is quite likely going to hurt their fundraising. I have cc'd the four HRW offices in the US and you can address your emails to one or all of those offices. (Thanks to Ed Herman and Academics for Justice for passing this on.)
Letter to Senator Clinton on Comments about the Construction of the Wall
Sarah Leah Whitson
Human Rights Watch
November 23, 2005
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton
United States Senate
476 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Senator Clinton,
We write in response to comments attributed to you in Ha'aretz (November 15, 2005) during your recent trip to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) regarding the construction there of a metal and concrete barrier (hereinafter referred to as a "wall", in accordance with the terminology used by the International Court of Justice). The media has quoted you as expressing support for the wall because it "is against terrorists" and "not against the Palestinian people." In light of your general standing as a supporter of international law and human rights, we find these comments disturbing and disappointing.
Israel certainly claims that its construction of the wall is designed to counter terrorist attacks by building a barrier between Israelis and Palestinians, but that could have been accomplished by building it along the Green Line. Instead, Israel has built the bulk of the wall (benignly referred to as a "security fence" by the Israeli government) well inside the OPT for the purpose of capturing Israeli settlements, and the Palestinian land and resources they control, on the "Israel side" of the wall.
Under the current route, only twenty percent of the wall's route is inside Israel or along the Green Line, while 80 percent deviates from it, encompassing fifty-five Israeli settlements and other land in the OPT. These settlements contain the vast majority of more than 400,000 settlers living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The wall succeeds in providing contiguity among the illegal settlements, their access roads, and Israel, while severing Palestinian cities, towns and villages from each other and from their land. This deep intrusion suggests that the function of the wall is less for security than for facilitating the eventual annexation of territory. B'Tselem, a leading human rights organization in Israel, unequivocally concluded in its September 2005 report, "Under the Guise of Security", that
contrary to the state`s claim that the Barrier`s route is based solely on security reasons, the main consideration in setting the route in some locations was to include on the "Israeli" side of the Barrier areas which are slated for settlements expansion. In some cases, the expansion amounts to the establishment of new settlements.
The location of the wall outside Israel is also illegal under international law. In 2004, the International Court of Justice concluded that Israel's construction of the wall within the boundaries of the OPT contravenes international humanitarian law and is tantamount to an illegal annexation of the settlements on the "Israel side" of the wall. The court wrote that Israel should cease construction of the wall on Palestinian territory, dismantle those portions already constructed there, and pay reparations for damage caused. Unfortunately, Israel has failed to follow the court's decision and continues its construction of the wall.
The court also reiterated its finding, shared by international legal commentators and every major human rights organization in the world, that the settlements themselves violate international humanitarian law. Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits Israel, as the occupying power in the OPT, from transferring members of its own population into the OPT; Article 55 of the Hague Regulations, a component of customary international law, also prohibits Israel from making permanent changes to the territory, such as establishing Jewish-only settlements, that do not benefit the local inhabitants. These laws were designed in recognition of the tremendous damage that colonization of occupied territories causes to the lives of the indigenous population.
Sadly, all evidence indicates that the wall is, in fact, very much "against" the Palestinian people. The humanitarian, economic, and social impact of the wall on Palestinian communities has been nothing short of disastrous, as extensively documented by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, relief organizations, and human rights groups, among others. In the case of many Palestinian villages, the wall separates students from their schools, families from their relatives and friends, workers from their jobs, and farmers from their agricultural land, greenhouses, olive and citrus trees, and even water. The wall has severely circumscribed the already limited access of a number of Palestinian cities and villages to their local hospitals, schools and social service facilities. Worst off are the Palestinians trapped on the "Israel side" of the wall, who must now obtain special permits from the Israeli government to reside in their own homes. By making movement and in some cases residence so difficult, the wall seems intended to encourage Palestinians to leave for other areas of the West Bank, or even other countries.
Even the Supreme Court of Israel has recognized that the Israeli government cannot ignore altogether these humanitarian impacts. In two recent cases, although the court continued to avoid ruling on the illegality of settlements, it ordered Israel to consider rerouting the wall or its route in certain areas where Palestinians in a number of villages demonstrated the destructive effect of the wall on their ability to earn a livelihood or have any semblance of normalcy in their lives. While these decisions may alleviate some of the damage caused to those particular villages that were able to file claims and receive a hearing, they fail to address the ongoing, overall harm caused by the wall to Palestinians in the OPT or the fundamental illegality of the wall's construction on Palestinian territory.
In light of these considerations, we hope that you will reconsider your position in support of the wall, which ignores, and thereby undermines, the pronouncement of the world's highest judicial authority on matters pertaining to international law. We hope you will reconsider the evidence indicating that the placement of the wall inside the OPT is designed to annex settlements to Israel, under the guise of security. And we hope that you will instead join us and other human rights organizations, both around the world and inside Israel and the OPT, in demanding that Israel respect international law and protect the human rights of the Palestinians subject to Israeli military occupation.
Sarah Leah Whitson
Executive Director, Middle East and North Africa Division