The High Court said that the state could build a security fence west and north of Gush Etzion – but it would have to check with the court to see if anyone objected. Construction of the fence had been halted because of a lawsuit by Arab, leftist, and environmental groups claiming that the fence would ruin a natural resource that has been landmarked by international groups. The court essentially threw the petition out, but only because the state said that it was not building a fence right now anyway.
The decision came after the state said that the fence was unlikely to be built anytime in the near future, as the construction of the fence was now considered a “low priority” project. Construction of the fence in the area has been essentially frozen since 2007. In an interview over the weekend, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said that “this issue has been taken out of proportion. I have no intention of building a fence around Gush Etzion in the near future.”
If the state does decide to build the fence in the area, it would have to apply for permits and security variances, and inform the court at least 60 days in advance so that objections and petitions can be considered.
The decision came after the multi-pronged lawsuit brought against the state for the plan to build the fence on agricultural terraces next to the historic town of Beitar (now an Arab town called Battir), where farmers work the land using ancient agricultural methods perfected by the Jews who lived for thousands of years on that land. In June, UNESCO named the area to a list of “World Heritage Sites in Danger,” after groups challenged construction of the fence. In response to the challenges, the state changed the planned route of the fence several times.
Davidi Perl, head of the Gush Etzion Regional Council, praised the court for its decision. “The delay in construction will enable the security establishment to consider one of the alternatives we have suggested in place of this fence, in order to avoid destroying the unique environment of Gush Etzion and without further damaging the connection between Gush Etzion and Jerusalem," he said.
The case was one of the rare petitions that both Israeli and Palestinian Authority Arab groups agreed on. While the Gush Etzion Regional Council was not a party to the petition, the Nature and Parks Authority was, issuing an affidavit to the court saying that “constructing the fence will have a very negative effect on an ancient agricultural culture in the Jerusalem hills.”