Eli Cohen, 29, was heading home on Route 443 on the night of December 21, 2000, when his car was sprayed with automatic weapons-fire by Palestinian terrorists.
When the High Court of Justice this week, unhappily marking Cohen's 10th yahrzeit, ordered the IDF to lift its blanket ban against Palestinian traffic on that same road, reactions were predictable.
On the Right, there were accusations that Court President Dorit Beinisch was recklessly disregarding Jewish lives; on the Left, there were assertions that the road should never have been built in the first place.
A FEW days after the Cohen murder, an ambush wounded two other motorists. The IDF attempted to secure the highway while keeping it open to Palestinian traffic filtering in from adjacent villages and Ramallah. But the attacks continued and Israeli motorists petitioned the High Court, complaining that they felt abandoned by the army.
In August 2001, three more Israelis were killed. Sporadic sniping, rock-throwing and firebombings forced many commuters to abandon the road.
In 2002, the IDF began restricting Palestinian traffic, though it did not issue a formal ban until 2006 when an Arab motorist from Jerusalem, mistaken for a Jew, was murdered on the road.
By August 2007, the security situation had dramatically improved and B'Tselem began lobbying to lift access restrictions because of the detrimental impact they were having on ordinary Palestinians.
The advocacy organization also held that securing Israeli motorists beyond the Green Line had a downside - it solidified Jewish claims to Judea and Samaria. Soon foreign campaigners launched protests along Rt. 443 demanding free access for Palestinian traffic.
Then in March 2008, the High Court began hearing testimony in a case brought by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel on behalf of the very villages from which some of the attacks against Rt. 443 drivers had emanated. Plainly, if the court opened Rt. 443 to Palestinian traffic, a precedent might be set against blanket closures on even more dangerous roads deeper in the West Bank.
As the justices were putting the finishing touches on their decision, security forces discovered the remains of a bomb planted by Palestinian terrorists along the 443 road.
TO THE Right, we would point out that Beinisch and Justice Uzi Fogelman (with Justice Edmond Levy dissenting) felt international law gave them no recourse but to order that the ban be lifted. The highway cuts through territory the international community deems "occupied," and land for its expansion was expropriated exclusively on the legal grounds that it would benefit Palestinian Arab motorists.
Intifada violence forced the ban; the absence of Palestinian traffic made the road safe again. Under these paradoxical circumstances, a road that was sanctioned only because Palestinians were supposed to benefit from it could not forever remain the exclusive preserve of Israeli drivers.
The justices told IDF commanders that they could control Palestinian access to Rt. 443 depending on the security situation. That approach, of course, was tried and failed in the early 2000s. The law may be an ass but the justices should not be demonized.
To the Zionist Left, troubled because 14 kilometers of Rt. 443 cuts through the "occupied West Bank," we would point out that, actually, the access arteries to Rt. 443 begin in "occupied east Jerusalem" and together are integral to Israel's control of the capital.
Israel has no internationally recognized borders on the Palestinian front. We have only the 1949 Armistice Lines, which left us with Highway 1 - a narrow, winding, hard-to-defend, uphill corridor to Zion. Even it briefly crosses the Green Line near Latrun.
All this makes a second artery that connects the capital to the coastal plain - Rt. 443 - a strategic necessity. So of course it should have been built. And Israeli negotiators will push hard to make it part of sovereign Israel in any final-status accord with the Palestinians.
A FREE society's first imperative is survival; it's second is not to lose its soul.
How to harmonize these essentials will continue to be a key challenge in the decade ahead.
As increasing numbers of Westerners are realizing this holiday season, those who would bring down airliners, blow up trains - and, yes, shoot Israeli commuters dead - are also daily challenging our capacity to uphold civil liberties.