Court: Bil'in barrier route must change

Follows petition by Palestinians who claimed security fence annexed their agricultural lands.

bilin map 298 btselem (photo credit: B'tselem)
bilin map 298 btselem
(photo credit: B'tselem)
After a two-year battle that included protests every Friday, residents of the Palestinian village of Bil'in and their Israeli and international supporters have won a partial victory. The High Court of Justice on Tuesday ordered the army to change the route of the security barrier around a neighborhood of Modi'in Illit. The neighborhood in question is Matityahu East, which has also been the focus of another petition against allegedly illegal housing construction in the western part of the neighborhood by a number of building companies, including Heftsiba Construction, which is currently under threat of financial collapse. The petitioner, Bil'in village head Ahmed Yassin, said the barrier around Matityahu East cut villagers off from hundreds of dunams of their agricultural land and that it was built to provide for the security of nonexistent Israelis, since the neighborhood had not yet been built. Bil'in is east of Modi'in and west of Ramallah. Matityahu East includes two distinct parts - a western area and an eastern area. Construction in the western part began at about the same time the land seizure orders for the barrier were issued. Construction in the eastern part is conditional on approval by the defense minister and has not yet begun. A panel of three justices - Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, Deputy Supreme Court President Eliezer Rivlin and Justice Ayala Procaccia - ruled Tuesday that the barrier should be rerouted to protect the western part of the new neighborhood, which is today partly occupied, including by Heftsiba clients who moved into their apartments last month, while leaving the eastern part on the "West Bank" side of the barrier. Beinisch, who wrote the decision, said the question of the barrier route was made "problematic" because it was meant to protect a "future" neighborhood. "As we know," she wrote, "the route of the separation barrier should not be planned based on the desire to include land earmarked for expanding settlements on the 'Israeli side,' especially if the plans are not to be realized soon." Nevertheless, Beinisch did not explicitly decide that the barrier should be removed because it was meant to protect a neighborhood that did not yet exist. But she was adamant about the eastern part of the neighborhood, where there was no construction and no construction in sight. Beinisch found that to protect the eastern part of the neighborhood, the planners had actually sacrificed security because part the barrier was designed to run through a valley overlooked by Palestinian high ground. "It seems that given the [government's] desire to guarantee the establishment of the eastern part in the future, it determined the route where it had no security advantage," she wrote. Beinisch ruled that the barrier, as it had been planned, would cause disproportionate harm to Bil'in residents because it occupied 260 dunams (65 acres) of Palestinian land and left about 1,700 dunams of Palestinian orchards and pasture land belonging to the village or individual farmers on the "Israeli" side.•