Separation Fence Spends a Day in Court

Israel’s High Court of Justice spent the day on Thursday hearing petitions against the routes of various sections of the separation fence. One decision has been handed down so far.

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Hana Levi Julian, | updated: 17:02

Palestinian Authority Arab village leaders won an appeal to reroute some 5 km of the barrier closer to the Yesha Jewish community of Tzufim, which the fence was built to protect. The petition was filed by the village of Nebi Elias, the municipality of Azon and the Center for the Defense of the Individual.

The current route of the fence cuts off some 650 dunams (140 acres) of land that the petition said belongs to private Arab individuals, out of 1,000 dunams that would have been left on the Tzufim side.

The present route was planned during a time in which there were numerous terror attacks. During that first hearing, the State argued that the fence route was based solely on security considerations. The brief as written by State Attorney Yuval Roitman read, in part, “Along this section the route will serve as an observation point onto Route 55, which runs between Karnei Shomron, Maaleh Shomron, Ginot Shomron and Kalkilye.” As a result, the High Court rejected the 2002 petition to change the route.

In his ruling, High Court President Aharon Barak said state prosecutors misled the Court in the earlier case prior to the appeal. “The High Court was not presented with the entire picture in the first petition,” he wrote. “The Court rejected the appeal based on partial information.”

The decision also required the State to pay all legal costs of the hearing, some NIS 50,000. The State’s request to postpone the dismantling by six months, until an alternate route is built, was accepted by the Court. However, State attorneys were warned that there was no legal authorization for a new route, which will have to be discussed at a later date.

The B’Tzelem organization said in response to Thursday’s decision, “The High Court of Justice in fact ruled that the State lied... This ruling requires a renewed discussion on all the petitions rejected based on those claims.”

The Court was scheduled to hear seven more petitions against the route of the separation fence in Gush Etzion. Two were submitted by the Gush Etzion Regional Council, one by the Kfar Etzion Field School and four by PA Arab residents. Other petitions against the route of the barrier were to be heard as well. The areas in dispute include Sussia, Jaba, Dar Qaddis and Modiin Illit.

The State’s brief responding to the petitions against the route of the fence was written by State Attorneys Osnat Mandel, Gilad Shirman and Avner Hellman. They argued that the current route was the best compromise that was possible to provide maximum security and still accommodate the daily needs of the Israeli and PA Arab residents of Gush Etzion.

Attorney Yaakov Weinrot is representing the Gush Etzion Regional Council and Kibbutz Migdal Oz in its petition against the fence. “The route leaves a hilltop on the Palestinian side of the barrier that overlooks the community including its factories and industrial area,” states the brief in part. “The crest of the hill also overlooks Efrat,” it said.

State figures document the length of the fence surrounding Gush Etzion at present to be 55 km, including an area in which 45,000 Jewish residents in 10 communities live on 65,000 dunams of land. This includes the hareidi-religious community of Beitar Illit as well as 18,000 Arab residents living in five villages.

In some areas, the fence is to pass houses in the city of Efrat by a scant 80 to 250 meters. There are 8,000 Jews living in Efrat, approximately 20 minutes south of Jerusalem by car.