Palestinians held coordinated protests — occasionally rebuffed by Israeli tear gas — throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Monday aimed at persuading the world court to rule against Israel’s separation barrier.
Thousands responded to Yasser Arafat’s call to “make their voices heard” on the first day of the court hearing. Some marchers burned Israeli flags, destroyed fake walls or threw stones at Israeli soldiers.
Palestinians say the partially built barrier, which would dip deep into the West Bank along its planned 450-mile route, is an Israeli effort to take land they want for a Palestinian state. The sections already built make it hard for thousands to reach jobs, schools, fields and hospitals.
“We should build love and peace, not walls,” said Salam Mashal, a 50-year-old computer engineer, as she marched in Ramallah.
Israel says the barrier — a snaking web of walls, razor wire, patrol roads, watchtowers and electric fences — is crucial to stopping Palestinian suicide bombers, such as the one who killed eight Israelis on a Jerusalem bus on Sunday.
“I’d rather the Palestinians be inconvenienced and my children be alive,” said Raanan Gissin, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. “This is a lifesaving fence.”
Early Monday, as the International Court of Justice in the Hague began hearings on the barrier, Israel towed the twisted remains of the bombed bus next to a 25-foot-high section of wall separating the West Bank town of Abu Dis from Jerusalem.
Later in the day, the Palestinian protests rang out in towns and cities.
“The wall must fall,” read one placard. “Sharon’s hatred wall,” read another.
In Nablus, protesters constructed an 8-foot-high cardboard mockup of the barrier. Then men wearing construction helmets and wielding hammers joined masked militants swinging rifles in knocking it down. In Gaza, they burned another mock wall, and in Hebron, protesters burned Israeli flags.
In Bethlehem and Abu Dis, demonstrators threw stones at Israeli soldiers, who responded with tear gas. Soldiers fired tear gas near the towns of Jenin and Tulkarem to keep thousands of marchers from coming too close to the barrier.
The demonstrations were organized by the Palestinian Authority, which closed schools and government offices for the rallies.
Even businesses got involved, with billboards emblazoned with the logo of a local cellular telephone company hanging over the square in Ramallah showing a white dove surrounded by barbed wire and reading “No to the wall.”
“Peace will not be achieved between the two peoples and in the entire region in the presence of the wall of annexation, expansion and apartheid,” Arafat said in a televised speech, accusing Israel of using the barrier to seize West Bank land.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia told a rally in Abu Dis that the barrier would not guarantee greater security for Israel, just further tension.
“If you want peace, the path is known,” he said, addressing Israel. “If you prefer violence, the path is known as well.”
A few hundred people demonstrated in front of Sharon’s house in Jerusalem after nightfall, demanding that the barrier be removed.
Small sympathy protests were held across the Arab world. About 2,000 Palestinians marched through the refugee camp of Ein el-Hilweh in southern Lebanon, and 500 protested outside United Nations House in Beirut. In Damascus, Syrian courts fell silent for an hourlong work stoppage in solidarity with the Palestinians.
And in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, 125 protesters, surrounded by 350 riot police, chanted: “We oppose the racist wall!”
Meanwhile, Sharon told legislators from his Likud Party that his plan to unilaterally disengage from the Palestinians would ensure that Israel keeps most settlements, according to a participant in the closed-door meeting.
Sharon said Israel would not withdraw from Ariel, Israel’s second-largest West Bank settlement with 18,000 residents.
The disengagement plan includes imposing a boundary on the Palestinians.
Sharon has said he would implement his plan, including dismantling some Jewish settlements, if there is no progress in peace efforts.