THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- An international court opened a hearing yesterday into the Israeli barrier being built in and around the West Bank, as pro-Palestinian demonstrators here voiced encouragement and supporters of Israel looked on.
In a three-hour presentation to the International Court of Justice, the Palestinian Authority argued that the partially built barrier of barbed wire, ditches, watch posts and concrete walls is a violation of international law and an attempt to annex Palestinian land.
Israel dismissed Palestinian assertions as the first day of the hearing drew to a close, saying the barrier is a necessary bulwark against suicide bombers and falls within the legal definition of self-defense.
"Alongside the quality of life of Palestinians, we have to weigh the right to life for Israelis," said Daniel Taub, an Israeli government legal adviser. "And what we have to do is find the appropriate balance between the two."
Nasser al-Kidwa, the Palestinians' permanent observer to the United Nations, made the opening remarks to the court. Kidwa said the barrier was blocking any chance for a better future.
"If completed, it will wall in most of the Palestinian people and will end the possibility of a two-state solution and thus end the chance of peace in the region," Kidwa said in an interview after the presentation.
The world court is to continue its hearing for two more days.
The U.N. General Assembly has asked the court for a nonbinding, advisory opinion about the legal consequences of the barrier's construction.
Israel filed a written submission, contending that the court lacks the jurisdiction to rule.
"The court has been asked to pass judgment on a country's response to terrorism but not on the terrorists themselves," said Taub.
The legal proceedings topped an emotional day that saw Palestinian and Israeli organizations carrying out silent marches and noisy demonstrations.
News photographers clamored to board the burned-out wreckage of a Jerusalem passenger bus flown in as a backdrop for the demonstrations.