(photo credit: Rafael D Frankel)
The government moved one step closer to completely blocking off the northern neighborhoods of Jerusalem from the West Bank when the High Court of Justice earlier this week rejected Palestinian petitions against sealing two breaches in the separation wall at Bir Naballah and A-Ram.
Until now, the breaches in the barrier have allowed Palestinians living in the West Bank but possessing Israeli identity cards or permits to enter Israel to take shorter routes to reach the city.
Meanwhile, the army posted roadblocks to check the papers of Palestinians driving on these roads to prevent terrorists from infiltrating into the country and to keep out Palestinians without permits.
Two weeks ago, the army informed the court that it intended to do away with the roadblocks and seal off the roads because the Atarot terminal had become operational as of April 4. This meant that Palestinians with Israeli identity cards or entry permits would have to enter through the terminal. They would have to travel out of their way to reach Atarot and would have to wait in longer lines to be inspected.
Residents of Bir Naballah and A-Ram have petitioned the High Court against the construction of the separation wall around their communities, charging that the wall cuts them off from vital services and facilities in Jerusalem and disrupts their access to the rest of the West Bank. Most of the petitions were submitted in 2004 and 2005 and the court has still not ruled on them, though most of the construction has already been completed.
Two weeks ago, when the petitioners learned of the army's intention to seal the breaches, they asked the court for interim injunctions to prohibit it from doing so until the court ruled on the main body of their petitions.
After hearing the arguments of the government and the petitioners, the court rejected two of the three requests. The first had to do with sealing off an east-west road leading from Bir Naballah to A-Ram. The road penetrated the Jerusalem municipal boundary at the southwest corner of the Atarot industrial zone and provided direct access to Jerusalem via a north-south side road.
The second was the "stoplight intersection" in A-Ram, which provided residents of the village direct access to the Jerusalem-Nablus road.
The court did not rule on a third request for an interim injunction to prevent the sealing off of a road from the southern neighborhood of A-Ram, Dahyat al-Barid, to Jerusalem, because the petitioner was unable to attend the hearing for religious reasons. The court ruled that it would hold a hearing on this request in a few days.
Marc Luria, founder of Security Fence for Israel, told The Jerusalem Post that "perhaps if the court had made these decisions earlier, Monday's suicide bombing in Tel Aviv would not have occurred."
Meanwhile, Col. (res.) Shaul Arieli blasted cabinet ministers who criticized the court for allegedly dithering and failing to hand down a final ruling on the petitions. Arieli, a senior official in the Council for Peace and Security, charged that for the past year it has been the state which repeatedly asked the court to postpone its ruling so that it could have more time to provide solutions to the problems that the separation wall cause Palestinians.
In December, for example, the court held its final hearing on the A-Ram petitions, but the state asked it to hold off its decision for three months, until the Atarot terminal was finished, since it would supposedly make passage for Palestinians to and from the West Bank to Jerusalem faster and less problematic. Arieli said he had urged the court to hasten the ruling to prevent the situation in the area from deteriorating.