Israel’s Right to Self-Defense on Trial

By Eliot Engel

Published February 27, 2004, issue of February 27, 2004.
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Israel’s right to defend itself against suicide bombers is on trial. On Monday, the International Court of Justice at The Hague began a hearing on whether Israel has the right to build a security fence to try and keep out the terrorists.

This case is being brought to the court by the Palestinians and anti–Israel factions in the United Nations who are hijacking this credible international forum for an anti–Israel political witch hunt.

Already in 2004, more than 20 Israelis have been killed by suicide bombers, with an attack last week claiming eight lives aboard a Jerusalem bus. Israel has an obligation to its citizens to do everything possible to stop these deadly attacks.

But, time and again, the assumption abroad seems be that Israel needs some kind of international approval to take defensive actions. This is preposterous. No sovereign democratic nation should have to seek a blessing from anyone or any organization to take measures to keep its people safe from terrorist bombs and bullets.

In his State of the Union address last year, President Bush said that the security of the United States “does not depend on the decisions of others. Whatever action is required, whenever action is necessary, I will defend the freedom and security of the American people.” In the State of the Union address this year, he said: “America will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our people.”

The president’s statements also make sense for Israel. Israel has the same right as the United States to defend its freedom from whomever threatens it. After all, only in Israel do parents know that sending their sons and daughters onto a bus or out to eat could mean their children face a violent death or dismemberment.

The fence is not a perfect solution to the problem of terrorism. It will never stop all the suicide bombers from getting into Israel and killing innocent men, women and children. It no doubt burdens the lives of many Palestinians.

But the Israelis did not want to build this fence. Israelis simply want to live in peace, safe from terrorist attacks.

An Israeli organization that handles the grim task of scouring the sites of terrorist attacks for victims’ remains sent a bus blown up by a suicide bomber to The Hague. In some ways, the bus is similar to the fence: Both are tragic examples of what Palestinian terrorism brings.

The fence was built by Yasser Arafat, who rejected peace in favor of the intifada and a campaign of terror. What built this fence is the unwillingness of the Palestinians to reject terrorism as a political bargaining chip. What built this fence are the countless posters and banners, textbooks and religious sermons all around the West Bank that glorify suicide bombers as martyrs to a senseless cause.

To their credit, the United States and 30 other nations have filed briefs with the International Court of Justice, asserting that the court has no authority to rule in this case. Over the next few weeks, the United States and other nations around the world must continue to urge the court to do what is right and not use this hearing as a forum to bash Israel.

Rep. Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat, serves on the House Committee on International Relations.






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