(photo credit: Rafael D Frankel [file])
The High Court of Justice said Wednesday it would hand down its decision on a petition protesting an army order barring Palestinians from driving on Highway 443 at a later date.
But during the final hearing on the petition, the court indicated that over the years, the road has become a key highway serving tens of thousands of Israelis whose safety would be endangered if Palestinians were allowed to use it unrestrictedly.
"You submitted your petition at a very late date," Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch told ACRI attorneys Dan Yakir and Limor Yehuda, who are representing 30 Palestinian petitioners - including the local heads of six Palestinian towns and villages strung along the segment of the highway which is situated inside the West Bank. "The restrictions on the road started in 2002."
According to the petitioners, the West Bank military commander expropriated Palestinian land inside the West Bank to build a 14-kilometer segment of Highway 443, the rest of which is located on Israeli-annexed territory in Jerusalem or Israeli territory west of the Green Line in the Modi'in area.
They maintained that in accordance with the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 regarding "protected persons" under occupation, the military commander had two responsibilities - to safeguard the legitimate security interests of the occupier and to provide for the needs of the protected persons in accordance with the laws of belligerent occupation. It was illegal for the military commander to expropriate land for the good of the Israeli population, they argued.
Brig.-Gen. Noam Tivon, the commander of the Judea and Samaria Division, told the court, "My greatest challenge is to prevent terrorist attacks. The entire length of Highway 443 has been the target of many such attacks."
The highway was sensitive not only because Israelis driving on it could easily be the target of drive-by shootings, ambushes, rocks and firebombs but because it included many side roads leading directly into Israel, he explained. "Only by isolating the road can we protect Israel from suicide attacks or booby-trapped vehicles," Tivon continued.
The state's representative, attorney Michal Tzuk, argued that when the land was expropriated by the military government in the late 1980s, it was meant first and foremost to improve the road system between the six villages and Ramallah.
Until then, the road had been in poor shape. At the same time, the state had also said it intended to allow Israelis to travel on the West Bank segment.
Over the years, however, circumstances had changed because of the second intifada, during which five Israelis were killed on the highway, Tzuk continued. As a result, access roads from the Palestinian villages to the highway were blocked off.
In 2006, the army issued a formal order forbidding Palestinians to use the highway altogether.
According to Tzuk, the army was now preparing a new road inside the West Bank to link the villages with Ramallah. This axis would be better for the Palestinians than Highway 443 because it was shorter and because there would be no checkpoints to slow down Palestinian motorists.
She also said the army was prepared to give permits to 80 vehicles to use the highway, including public buses and emergency vehicles.
The ACRI attorneys argued that the state had failed to explain the fundamental illegality of the expropriation of private Palestinian land for a main artery serving the transportation needs of the Israeli population, a goal which had nothing to do with security needs.
But, once again, Beinisch and Acting Justice Uzi Fogelman indicated that the army had found a satisfactory alternative to Highway 443 for the Palestinians.
ACRI attorney Yehuda pointed out that to provide that alternative, the army had had to expropriate even more private Palestinian land.
At the same time, Yakir said the expropriation of Palestinian land for a highway serving Israelis could only be compared to expropriating Palestinian land to build a shopping mall which served only Israeli customers.
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