Thursday, July 06, 2006

Dragging Israel to ICJ?

In late January 2006, Hamas won a landslide victory in democratically administered elections in Palestine. As a hard line Islamic group, Hamas took over the baton of leadership in Palestine from the Fatah faction and its victory has evoked mixed responses from different quarters. In Muslim world and young democracy like Indonesia in which the majority of its population is Muslim, the victory means that Islam does not contradict with democracy and instead it is a sign of an advance towards a democratic setup in Muslim world.

On the contrary, the West, especially the US, Israel, and their allies in Europe, rejected this victory and immediately distanced itself from the possibility of dealing with a Hamas led government in Palestine. They even went further by cutting off all financial aids and banking channels to the Palestinian Authority, an important lifeline for the functioning of any government in Palestine, once Hamas formed a new government. The seemingly pragmatist stance taken lately as well as the unilateral ceasefire by Hamas did not give any effect to their stance. Their reasons: Hamas is a terrorist group who refuses to recognize Israel and does not want to foreswear the use of violence in their struggle to establish an independent Palestine state. The boycott and closure of financial aids and banking channels have crippled the functioning of the new government in Palestine.

At the same time, the change of guard in Israel in late March 2006 from Ariel Sharon to Ehud Olmert seemed to have hardened the decision by the Israeli government to unilaterally define its national border. Having secured majority support in the Knesset, Olmert vowed not to conduct any negotiation with a ‘terror group’ (Hamas). He stubbornly continued Sharon’s effort to unilaterally define Israel’s national border regardless of any objection from the Palestinian Authority.

And when the atmosphere of hostility between Israel and Palestine seemed to start winding down, mostly due to the unilateral decision by Hamas not to conduct any attack to Israel and the changing attitude by its leadership towards Israel in which Hamas leadership seemed to be ready to take a pragmatic stance for the sake of the Palestinian people, Israel triggered a new conflict with Palestine. Not satisfied with its political and economic stranglehold on Palestine, Israel is now trying to grab more territory from the Palestinian Authority. PM Olmert has announced recently in Washington that a Greater Israel will be created by 2010 as a final settlement of the Palestinian issue. The Israeli state plans to annex formally the whole of Jerusalem and significant portions of the West Bank, including those already gobbled up by the ‘apartheid wall’, which Israel is constructing at breakneck speed.

Israel started its grandiose plan with an attack to innocent holiday-makers in Gaza beach, killing 10 innocent Palestinians and injuring many others to instigate a reaction from the Palestinians. It went even further by recently conducting series of air strikes in Gaza in which more innocent civilians have been killed and public infrastructure damaged, besides the illegal arrest of Hamas legislators, in brutal search of Corporal Gilad Shalit that has been held captive by Palestinian militants in Gaza. These attacks surely could precipitate another unavoidable intifada in Palestine and formally ended the ceasefire between Hamas and the Israel state.

Regardless of the status of Hamas in the eyes of Israel and its allies, they are the legitimate elected representatives of the Palestinians to rule the Palestinian Authority. On the contrary, the grandiose plan of PM Olmert to create a Greater Israel and the recent attack by Israeli forces on innocent civilians and public infrastructure in Palestine in which power and water stations and government buildings in the Gaza Strip were destroyed have violated international law. The attack has engendered humanitarian crisis in the region and has sent levels of stress and trauma higher among civilians.

In response to this heinous attack on innocent civilians, the Hamas-led Palestinian authority wants to take a legal route by planning to file a petition against Israel in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at Hague, accusing it of committing “war crimes against Palestinians”. The plan has an echo in Switzerland, a nation usually known for its political neutrality, in which it condemned this ‘collective punishment’ imposed on Palestinians, calling it a breach of the Geneva Conventions.

Palestinian Authority’s Justice Minister Ahmad Al Khalidi said recently that if the court fails to stop Israel’s aggression against the Palestinians, Hamas would have no choice but to use violence in order to protect the Palestinian people. Furthermore, he said that suing Israel in the ICJ is a test for international institutions. If they deny the rights of Palestinians, then the international community has to act responsibly when it comes to blocking the legal channels to the Palestinians, forcing them to use violence to defend themselves.

Surely, if this process goes successfully, it is a test for international institution and international community to react positively and use the common sense and do justice to those people that have been the victims of injustices. Bringing the matter of Israel and Palestine to the ICJ can also be used as a legal, middle way process to settle the conflict in the region once and for all.

If the international community could justify the establishment of Israel state in the bank of River Jordan in the post-Holocaust tragedy in Europe by the Nazi German, they must justify the basic rights of the Palestinians to live a life of dignity and peace in their own homeland. If justice can be done to the people of Palestine, violence and humanitarian crisis in the region could be well avoided. But if the bias and partiality in judgment prevail, the crisis would only plunge even deeper and violence would escalate further. The current Israeli offensives have enough force to trigger a third intifada by the militant groups in Palestine.

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