On 9 July 2004, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued an Advisory Opinion on the “Legal Consequence of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory”, which was overwhelmingly endorsed by the UN General Assembly. The Opinion advises that the Barrier, and its associated regime, is in violation of international law and should be dismantled immediately:
"The construction of the wall being built by Israel, the occupying Power, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, and its associated régime, are contrary to international Law[.] Israel is under an obligation to terminate its breaches of international law; it is under an obligation to cease forthwith the works of construction of the wall being built in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, to dismantle forthwith the structure therein situated, and to repeal or render ineffective forthwith al1 legislative and regulatory acts relating thereto.” (paragraph 163)
The Court also advises that Israel is “under an obligation to return the land, orchards, olive groves and other immovable property seized from any natural or legal person for purposes of construction of the wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory” and that, “[i]n the event that such restitution should prove to be materially impossible, Israel has an obligation to compensate the persons in question for the damage suffered.” (paragraph 153)
Moreover, given the character and the importance of the rights and obligations involved, the Court is of the view that:
“[A]ll States are under an obligation not to recognize the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem. They are also under an obligation not to render aid or assistance in maintaining the situation created by such construction.” (paragraph 159)
Outcomes of the opinion
In light of the ICJ’s Advisory Opinion, UNRWA and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs established a monitoring project in 2006 aiming to improve documentation of the Barrier's impacts on Palestinian communities. The goals of this project included better detecting trends, enabling humanitarian actors to provide a swift and appropriate response, and raising public awareness and knowledge of the issue. UNRWA then established the Barrier Monitoring Unit (BMU) in March 2010 to address the increasing need for accurate documentation of the impacts of the Barrier on the particularly vulnerable Palestine refugee population and Palestinian communities in general.
This project is of paramount importance given the continual expansion of the Barrier and its associated regime, in contravention of international law, and the danger of it permanently reshaping Palestinian reality on the ground - a danger that is shared by the Court:
"Whilst the Court notes the assurance given by Israel that the construction of the wall does not amount to annexation and that the wall is of a temporary nature… it nevertheless cannot remain indifferent to, certain fears expressed to it that the route of the wall will prejudge the future frontier between Israel and Palestine, and the fear that Israel may integrate the settlements and their means of access. The Court considers that the construction of the wall and its associated régime create a "fait accompli" on the ground that could well become permanent, in which case, and notwithstanding the formal characterization of the wall by Israel, it would be tantamount to de facto annexation." (paragraph 121)
Read the Summary Opinion of the ICJ or download the full Advisory Opinion as a PDF.