The High Court of Justice on Sunday heard six petitions protesting the route of the separation barrier stretching from the West Bank settlement of Beit Horon in the west eastwards to Givat Ze'ev, northwest of Jerusalem.
Most of the separation barrier along the route has either been completed or is near completion. However, the government has promised to dismantle it should the court uphold the petitions.
The hearing before a panel of three justices - Supreme Court President Aharon Barak and Justices Dorit Beinisch and Eliezer Rivlin - went on for almost five hours. The decision will be handed down at a later date.
The route under discussion was a "correction" of the original separation barrier in the same area, which was the subject of the High Court's landmark "Beit Sourik" decision of June 2004, when it declared that the route must strike a "proportional" balance between Israel's security needs and the well-being of the Palestinian residents.
As a result of the court ruling, which rejected large segments of the original route, the army established a new one, most of which was much closer to the Green Line, and included much less Palestinian-owned land on the "Israeli" side of the barrier.
In fact, in certain areas the barrier was shifted so close to the Green Line that it triggered petitions from two Jewish communities, the West Bank settlement of Har Adar and the local council of Mevasseret Zion. The heads of both communities appealed in person to the court during the hearing.
Attorney Mohammed Dahleh, who represented most of the Palestinian petitioners, argued that despite the changes in the route, the barrier still used up too much Palestinian land or placed land on the wrong side of the barrier.
He maintained, for example, that two hills overlooking Har Adar from the west included a large amount of cultivated land and should be left to the Palestinians. He also argued that the Palestinian village of Nebi Samuel, which is included in "Israeli" territory, should be returned to the West Bank.
On the Israeli side, Har Adar argued that the state had changed the route of the barrier, thereby relinquishing control over Hill 765 on the west side of the settlement and two more hills on the eastern side. An attorney for the settlement argued that terrorists could open fire at homes in the settlement from both flanks.
On the other hand, the barrier cut off another area adjacent to Hill 765, where one Palestinian family lived, from the West Bank. Dahleh argued that the barrier should not cut off the family and its land from the West Bank.
Another contentious section of the barrier route was the one situated just north of Mevasseret Zion. Col. (Res.) Danny Tirza, the head of the Defense Ministry authority responsible for planning and building the separation barrier, told the court that the army had decided to leave Hill 847 on the West Bank side even though it overlooks Mevasseret.
Tirza said that from a security point of view it would have been better to maintain control of the peak, but that the army had to take into consideration Palestinian needs and added that the army could still provide security from a lower point on the hillside.
But the head of the Mevasseret local council, Carmi Gillon, argued that Hill 847 dominated the entire northern area of the town, which has a population of 24,000. He also argued that not much of the land on Hill 847 was cultivated and there were no water wells. On the other hand, the Palestinians used the hill as a garbage dump which, he claimed, was a health hazard for everyone living in the vicinity.
Maj.-Gen. (Res.) Yom Tov Samia added that Hill 847 had served throughout history as a strategic point overlooking the road to Jerusalem and that at its closest point, it was only 300 meters from the outer perimeter of Mevasseret Zion, and 1,800 meters from Highway 1, the main artery between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. He said a sniper could hit a moving vehicle from a distance of 1,500 meters.
The barrier route originally included a section which cut off the Palestinian village of Beit Iksa from the West Bank. In the meantime, however, the government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has decided to leave the village of 14,000 on the West Bank side of the fence. Therefore, this section of the route was not discussed at the hearing. The government has not yet completed its plans for the new route of the barrier which will now be situated south of Beit Iksa.
In the afternoon, the court heard the state's petition against a ruling by Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court sitting as a Commission of Appeal. The Commission recently ruled that the army could not build the separation barrier in such a way as to separate the neighborhood of Sheikh Sa'ed from the rest of the town of Jabel Mukabber.
According to the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem established after the 1967 Six Day War, Sheikh Sa'ed is located in the West Bank, while Jabel Mukabber is inside the Jerusalem city limits.
The state argued that Sheikh Sa'ed was an independent entity which was not connected to Jabel Mukabber and included hundreds of Palestinian residents who were barred from entering Jerusalem and Israel. The state wants to build a road to connect the neighborhood with Suahra a Sharkiya in the West Bank.
However, attorney Ghiath Nasser maintained that the lower court was right in determining that Sheikh Sa'ed was an integral part of Jabel Mukabber, linked by family relations, jobs and other ties.