JERUSALEM - Israel's highest court on Thursday urged defense officials to reroute a barrier planned for construction on ancient farmland at a West Bank Palestinian village.
The latest decision followed a rare appeal involving support from an Israeli government environmental agency for a Palestinian challenge.
In their ruling on Thursday, judges wrote that only a 500-metre (yard) long section of the security wall was under dispute at the village of Battir, known for its terraced agricultural fields, some of which are believed go back to biblical times.
"In light of the unique character of the region in question, it would be worthy for security officials to do some more thinking especially about what type of divider and security arrangements to employ in the problematic section," the justices wrote.
The court gave the Defense Ministry a 90-day deadline to respond. Appellants in the case will have 15 days after that to react.
Battir is a village in the Palestinian Authority, and is southwest of Jerusalem, situated just above the railway to Tel Aviv. Palestinian villagers say the barrier would irreversibly disrupt agriculture in their community.
Moreover, a letter from the PA dated November 27 indicates that the Palestinians listed the site on their Tentative List for World Heritage.
Israel began constructing a barrier through the West Bank about a decade ago, citing security concerns. The project was launched at the height of the second Palestinian Intifada and billed as a way to stop suicide bombers from penetrating the country.
Shaul Goldstein, director of the Israeli Nature and Parks Authority that backed the petition, said on Wednesday his group did "not object to putting up obstacles to stop terrorists, it's just that we believe here that other methods can be used."
Israeli army colonel Ofer Hindi, representing the state in the Battir case, argued for the security benefits of the planned section by saying that two villagers were jailed in 2008 for planning to bomb a railway that runs by Battir.
In addition to protecting the train, as well as being part of the overall planned security fence for encircling the Jerusalem area, the colonel noted that there has been a spike in violent incidents in the area since around the time of Operation Pillar of Defense last month.
Yonah Jeremy Bob contributed to this report.