(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem / The Jerusalem Post)
The village council of Walaja, a Palestinian community located on the southwestern edge of Jerusalem, appears to have failed on Monday in a last ditch effort to change the route of the security barrier separating it from the capital.
The route was approved in 2006 and the army issued a land seizure order for the construction of the fence that was to surround the village, which is 4 kilometers northwest of Bethlehem, on three sides. However, for various reasons, it did not build the fence at the time.
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A few months ago, village residents noticed that the army was starting to build the barrier. On April 8, the council, represented by attorney Ghiat Nasser, petitioned the High Court of Justice against the construction, saying that the land seizure order had expired after three years, as is customary, and had not been renewed. He demanded that the state issue a new land seizure order and give anyone affected by the proposed route the right to appeal against it.
The state argued that the order did not expire until three years after construction on the basis of the land seizure order had begun. On Monday, two of the judges, Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch and Justice Uzi Fogelman, appeared to accept Nasser’s argument and reject the state’s.
Be that as it may, the court appeared to be more interested in the dispute between the sides over the actual route of the barrier.
Walaja is built at the top of a hill overlooking the Sorek Valley, which more or less runs parallel at that point to the Green Line, that is, the 1949 armistice line between Israel and Jordan. Instead of building the barrier there, the state decided to build it on the ridge of the Walaja hill, far above the Green Line and around 50 meters from Palestinian homes on the periphery of the village.
The state’s representative, Hani Ofek, explained that the route had been chosen for security, topographical and geological reasons. She said there was no possibility of building the route on the slope of the hill because the rock could not support it, and that it had to choose between the top and the bottom. But the bottom of the hill would put soldiers at a severe disadvantage should terrorists try to attack them or infiltrate Israel.
Nasser asked the court to order the state to change the route. The current one seriously impinged on the life of the villagers. Furthermore, it separated the villagers from 1,800 dunams (180 hectares) of their land. Walaja originally owned 17,000 dunams of land, said Nasser. It had lost 13,000 dunams following the War of Independence. Now, it was about to lose almost half of what was left. The attorney also argued that the fence would not be secure from attacks from the West Bank precisely because of its proximity to Walaja, which could be used as a hideout and launching pad for attacks.
At the end of the hearing, the judges ordered the state to report back
in 45 days on the progress it had made in the interim to expropriate the
land included in the seizure order for the route of the fence. The
decision indicated that the judges were prepared to regard the land
seizure orders as still being in effect as long as the state speeded up
the process of annexing the land. On the other hand, Beinisch ordered
the state to restrict the width of the barrier to 30 meters.
Nasser told The Jerusalem Post
that at the end of the lengthy hearing, “Beinisch made a Uturn.
She could have ruled that the land seizure order had expired. Instead,
she gave the state time to expropriate the land. I am very