The Supreme Court on Sunday upheld the state’s right to build a controversial new Jerusalem road over the ardent protests of Beit Safafa residents, who said the road would cut the neighborhood in two.
Despite the ruling, the court did make some modifications based on the Beit Safafa residents’ wishes and complaints, canceling certain access roads around the main road and ordering the state to produce an updated master-plan before moving ahead with the project.
The battle over the 1.8 km highway has gone on for years, with the state periodically making partial compromises toward the wishes of the residents, but never enough to gain the residents’ acquiescence.
Residents of Beit Safafa, the southeast Jerusalem neighborhood adjacent to Gilo, opposed the extension of the Begin Highway to the Tunnel Road that leads to Gush Etzion, because the highway cuts through the middle of their neighborhood.
The state wants the highway extension to improve overall travel within the city, which it said will also pay large economic dividends. It had held the upper hand, having won approval from the Jerusalem District Court in February 2013 to continue building the road.
One of the keys to the state’s persuading the court to continue the project was its commitment that “no street or walkway will be eliminated without an alternative option, such that at no time during the implementing of construction will any part of the neighborhood be cut off by car or by foot” from the rest of the neighborhood.
The state is permitted to continue to construct the road while addressing new problems on an ad hoc basis, with the residents no longer being able to question the state’s right to build the road.
At a mid-October 2013 hearing, Supreme Court President Asher D. Grunis seemed to press the residents for compromises, as he demanded they narrow their objections to a few specific items which the state might be able to address.
The residents hammered away at two main points. The first was that there needed to be many more overpasses to enable them to travel easily within the neighborhood without getting blocked by the new highway extension.
The second was that there needed to be much more extensive walls separating the highway from the neighborhood, since in some areas it is set to run within three meters or less of residents’ houses.
The state said that it had already agreed to build 180 meters of walls, plus some overpasses to answer the residents’ objections.
It had added that the residents’ requests for additional walling and overpasses was simply not physically manageable, given the layout of the neighborhood and the road, and that the residents’ maximum requests would cost more than an additional NIS 100 million.
Both sides had put forth expert reports claiming alternately that additional walling and overpasses were or were not feasible, and disparaging the other side’s expert as either not having the correct expertise, looking at the wrong part of the road in deciding what was feasible, or having a general bias.
The residents had also returned to their previous point before the district court, claiming that the plan had not gone through the proper approval process.
Responding, the state said that a 1990 master plan for the area laid the basis for the highway, an argument accepted by the district court, and which ultimately the Supreme Court also accepted as decisive.
The district court had ruled that the residents were aware of the plan. “Not only did the residents understand the nature of the planned road and the period for filing oppositions to the plan, but they also cooperated fully in the licensing process over their years and their opinions were considered,” said the court.
The district court continued, “The result of this is that a significant part of their requests was accepted, including allocating many unplanned resources amounting to tens of millions of shekels.”