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Israeli Foreign Ministry Statement Regarding International Court of Justice Hearing On Israel's Security Fence

Statement by Daniel Taub, Director, General Law Division, Ministry of Foreign Affairs at Press Conference of Israeli Delegation, The Hague, February 23, 2004.

The suicide bomber who blew up the number 14 bus in Jerusalem yesterday, murdering 8 people, and wounding more than 50, was a member of Yasser Arafat's own Al Aksa martyrs brigade.

Could anything be more shameful than recruiting, inciting, and paying the murderer of 8 children - students, parents, the brother-in-law of Israel's commercial attache here in the Hague? Could anything be more shameful than that?

And the answer is yes, there is something more shameful: To do all this and then come to the city of The Hague, to ask the United Nation's Court of Justice to censure the victims of terror for trying to defend themselves. To come to the 'Palace of Peace', to the 'Court of Justice', on the very morning that the victims are being buried and mourned, murdered by Arafat's own henchman, to attack Israel for building a fence which might have saved their lives.

That is why Israel is not in the Court today. Because along with the states of the Quartet, with the host state Holland, and with the bulk of the democratic world which has urged the Court not to hear the case, we know that ultimately this issue, like all the other tough issues between us and the Palestinians, will have to be resolved through compromise and negotiation. It certainly won't be resolved by sending one-sided questions to the Court that seek to put those defending themselves from terrorism on trial, but not the terrorists. And when we see the list of states that have chosen to play along – those champions of human rights: Sudan, Cuba, Saudi Arabia – itself building a massive fence to stop infiltration from Yemen, we know we were right to stay away.

We did not want to build this fence. It's ugly, it's expensive – even though its temporary, and it causes genuine hardship to many Palestinians which we must take every measure to ease. That's why we did not build it for over two and half years of Palestinian violence, why we waited while 935 Israelis were killed. Until we could wait no longer. Until March 2002, a month in which 37 terrorist attacks in 31 days murdered 137 people, including the Passover night massacre. We could wait no longer because the fence works. Not a single suicide bomber has succeeded in crossing the fence between Israel and the Gaza Strip. In those areas of the West Bank where it has been constructed, the fence has already brought down suicide attacks by some 30%. We recently caught two suicide bombers on their way to blow up a High School in the north of Israel, only because of the fence. The simple truth is that the fence is saving lives.

But it has a humanitarian impact. In the Palestinian presentation before the Court there were so many factual distortions that, tragically, they disguised the fact that there is genuine hardship caused by the fence. And it's our responsibility to do everything we can to ease this – even if it means creating over 40 agricultural gates, building underpasses to connect Palestinian areas, running buses to help the 61 kids who are separated from their schools, replanting tens of thousands of olive trees, and building new infrastructure for the Palestinians where this can't be included in the fence, like the kidney dialysis center we have just built at Mukassat hospital. But in our concern for the quality of life of the Palestinians, we cannot forget the right to life of Israelis. The fence, and the hardship it causes, is reversible. Lives lost to terrorism are not.

The aim of the fence is simply that; to save lives. In fact it is to slow down the terrorists by up to 15 minutes, to enable the defence forces to stop them. And a fence along the Green Line, which runs through villages and valleys with high ground on either side, would simply not do that. Which is why the fence diverts at points on both sides of the Green Line.

We're not trying to establish a border. If anything, it's the Palestinians, who insist the fence be built on the 1967 line who are trying to do that. We know that the future border between us has to be negotiated. That's what it says in all our agreements, in United Nations resolutions 242 and 338, and in the Road Map. The Palestinians can't have it both ways. They can't not fight terrorism and insist that we accept their maximalist position on the border negotiations.

At this very moment we know that terrorists are putting together the next suicide bomber belt aimed at the heart of one of our cities, at a restaurant, a mall, a bus. With a Palestinian leadership doing nothing to stop them, the fence is the only thing standing between those terrorists and our families. But there is a better way. For the Palestinians to do what they've promised to do again and again. Not to send questions to the Court that ignore their obligations, but to fulfil them. But nowhere in the three hours of Palestinian statements before the Court today, was there any mention of any Palestinian responsibility. Not a mention of the Israeli-Palestinian agreements in which they undertook to arrest terrorists, stop incitement, collect illegal weapons. Not a whisper about the first line of the first phase of the Road Map, which requires them to take immediate action to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure.

Because ultimately, Court or no Court, no leadership can evade responsibility. And as soon as there is a Palestinian leadership which accepts its responsibility, which talks to its own people about the need for painful concessions, as every Israeli leader for the past decade has done, a leadership like President Sadat of Egypt, like King Hussein of Jordan, then we will be able to stop building fences and start building bridges.

Israeli Foreign Ministry