Gov’t ordered to fix Beit Safafa highway dispute

Court gives state 30 days to rectify plans for road that would divide and obstruct east J’lem neighborhood.

June 27, 2013 00:49
3 minute read.
Beit Safafa

Beit Safafa 311. (photo credit: Michael Green)

The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the government must present viable solutions within 30 days to the significant problems a proposed six-lane highway would pose for residents of the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Safafa.

In a petition reviewed by the court, the residents claimed the partially constructed highway would divide their neighborhood, obstruct many from traveling freely to pivotal local destinations, and be constructed within meters of their homes.

Furthermore, the petition argued that the highway – connecting the tunnel road from Gush Etzion and the Gilo neighborhoods to the Begin Highway – was planned without the residents’ approval and right to seek compensatory damages, as stipulated by law.

“We say today, with all due respect and humility, that deception was used [by the government in the highway’s construction],” said the petitioner’s attorney, Muhammad Gubara Wednesday, who delineated numerous ways the highway would cause damage to neighborhood residents, legally and in practice.

“Shouldn’t such a huge project that destroys an entire neighborhood at least allow the residents to object and have their voice heard?” Gubara asked.

Kais Nasset, an attorney who also represented the residents, criticized the government’s contention that the court should allow the highway to be constructed because it is cost-effective, noting the human toll its construction would have on the community.

“[The government] keeps talking about costs, but we are talking about human rights,” said Nasset. “It’s saving money or saving the neighborhood.”

While the court stopped short of ordering the government to cease construction of the highway, following a protracted debate Supreme Court President Asher Grunis, who called the petition a “very unfortunate situation,” ordered the government to resolve the dispute within 30 days.

“At least at the theoretical level, if the people were looking into the [highway’s] planning situation, which would be located near their home, at present they have no choice,” said Grunis, who warned that permits for the highway could be revoked if an amicable settlement is not reached.

Grunis went on to order the government to create a viable timeline that includes detailed explanations of how each problem facing the Arab-Israeli residents will be fairly resolved.

“Submit the document without requesting an extension,” he warned. “If it is not submitted, there are alternatives. You know what they are.”

Grunis also ruled that the court will reconvene for further deliberation only after the residents of Beit Safafa are given 30 days to respond to the government’s proposal.

While Jerusalem City Councillor Meir Margalit (Meretz), who holds the east Jerusalem portfolio, praised the court for taking measures to correct the situation, he said he took issue with its refusal to cease construction of the project altogether.

“I am happy that the court realizes that there is a problem in the village with this [highway], but I’m disappointed that the same court has not stopped construction of it,” he said Wednesday. “I would have expected the court would recognize that this is more problematic and take a more courageous position to stop the construction.

“Instead,” he continued, “they’re giving the government one month to [attempt to] ‘minimize’ damages [to the community].”

Margalit emphasized that the solution to the impasse is not to minimize damages but, rather, to cease construction of the highway, because there is no other feasible alternative.

“This highway is a classic example of foolish planning, because they took one of the quietest and most Zionistic villages in Jerusalem and they are pushing them into the hands of the most radical groups in the Islamic wing,” he said.

“This will result in damage that will be impossible to minimize and we will pay an expensive price.”

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