THE HAGUE–A light snow was falling on the International Court of Justice in the Hague, an imposing building in a fenced, park-like setting. TV cameras perched on the front lawn as hundreds of demonstrators, gathered in front of the blackened shell of an Israeli municipal bus and read aloud the names of 935 Israelis, mostly noncombatant citizens–Christians, Druze, and Muslims, as well as Jews–who have been murdered in the last two years in attacks by terrorists in Israel’s public places.
Not far away, another rally was forming in another park with knots of demonstrators toting Palestinian flags and signs saying, “Boycott Israel.” One middle-aged white man in a surplus military jacket, decorated in Pentel-scrawled peace signs, wore a red-and-white-checkered Arafat scarf around his neck and every few minutes shouted: “Jews are Nazis.” Dutch riot police kept the groups apart.
Inside the court itself, 15 judges rustled self-importantly in black robes and white doily-like ascots, listening to oral argument from the Palestinian Authority and the Conference of Islamic States as to why Israel should not be allowed to build a security fence. The Arabs called it “a Berlin Wall” and an “apartheid wall,” as if Israel’s right to protect itself from crazed attacks that rain death on small children and old ladies on buses or slaughter teenagers on crowded dance floors or separate people from their limbs and their lives in fast-food restaurants is no different from Germans killing their own citizens for trying to escape from Communist oppression or white South Africans separating people by race. To further offend decency, some also are calling the fence “a ‘Holocaust’ wall.”
The judges did not hear countering arguments from Israel, the United States, Europe, Russia, China, Japan, or other states about the nearly 20,000 Islamist-terrorist attacks against innocent civilians in three years–the reason Israel is building the fence. Those countries are all boycotting the hearings on the grounds that the U.N. court has no authority to sit in judgment of Israel’s right–or any nation’s right–to decide how to protect its citizens. They recognize, too, that the U.N. General Assembly’s motives are grossly political and propagandistic, designed to further smear Israel in the eyes of the world.
A few blocks from the Peace Palace, while the judges were solemnly listening to the legal contrivances of the petitioners, on the third floor of a large house called Old City Hall, a quite different sort of trial, a “people’s court” was taking place. Eighteen Israeli victims of Palestinian terrorism gave personal testimony in front of three European parliamentarians, a small media scrum, and a couple hundred members of the public, many of whom had been denied entry into the public gallery of the U.N.’s court.
Led by Richard Heideman, an international victim’s-rights lawyer from Washington, D.C., and counsel to the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, the public hearing and its testimony provided the human context in which the Israeli government decided to build their security barrier.
As the U.N. Court put Israel on trial, Israeli victims of terrorism put Palestinian terrorism itself on trial. Men and women, some of them shaking and crying, told of witnessing the deaths of their children, their husbands, their wives, their parents.
One young man lost his father, his sister, and his brother-in-law in a bombing during a Passover meal at a hotel which took the lives of 27 other people and wounded 140.
A rail-thin 36-year old Israeli man named Avi Ohayan spoke in a whisper to the hushed crowd as he told of terrorists bursting into the home of his ex-wife and shooting her as she huddled on the floor with their two sons, Matan, 5, and Noam, 4. The men shot all three of them in the face and killed them. Avi, the father, had been talking to them on the phone when this happened and heard his son’s cries as they died.
The lack of vengeful feeling was striking. Gili Vider whose 48-year-old husband, Zeev, was killed in a suicide bombing, chose to donate her husband’s kidneys to a 45-year-old Palestinian woman from Jerusalem.
A Dutch teenager, Meir Schijveschuurder, spoke of the death of his family. His father, his mother, his two sisters, one 14, one 2, and his 4-year-old brother were blown up and killed with a dozen other people, while eating pizza in a popular Italian restaurant in Jerusalem two summers ago. Two of Meir’s other young sister’s, badly injured, survived. He now cares for them alone.
A replica of that restaurant, replete with mock blood on the walls and body parts strewn about, was erected at a West Bank Palestinian university as a monument to the suicide bomber. In the weeks following the explosion, thousands of Palestinians, many of them laughing and applauding, came to celebrate the explosion and deaths.
Emotional testimony of shattered lives and shattered futures poured from witnesses, Jews, Christians, a Druze man who lost his son, an Arab woman who lost her husband. Every one of them said that a security barrier, a fence against terrorism, would have prevented their personal tragedy.
The three European parliamentarians seemed genuinely moved by the testimony. They were aware that many of their European colleagues are hostile to Israel and unsympathetic to any methods Israeli employs against terrorism. Dutch parliamentarian Anton van Schijndel lambasted the banality of the common argument that “Israel should be building bridges not fences.” He pointed out that “those bridges” are currently being used to ship Palestinian terrorists into Israel’s restaurants, cafes, buses, and homes, and he angrily said his parliamentary compatriots should open their eyes to the Israeli victims of terrorism and to the sad necessity of a fence to help curb the bloodshed.
The Israeli workers who brought the shell of a city bus flayed to its bare steel bones in a Palestinian suicide bombing stood in front of the Peace Palace explaining how they have to locate every piece of flesh, however tiny, that is left in the wake of a bombing, so as to comply with Jewish religious law. The workers of Israel’s Shield of David (the Israeli equivalent of the Red Cross) came to the Hague in their uniforms to speak of the legions of terror victims they have treated.
More than 1,000 Christians sympathetic to Israel marched to the gates of the Peace Palace, each carrying a sign with a photo of an Israeli murdered by terrorists.
Will any of this make a difference? It is doubtful that those safely ensconced behind the court’s own fence are listening. But maybe in America and perhaps even in Europe there will be some who will not choose to ignore the cries of the victims of terrorism.
Richard W. Carlson, former U.S. ambassador and director-general of the Voice of America during the last six years of the Cold War, is vice chairman of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Mark Dubowitz is FDD’s vice president for strategic development and operations.