Court to rule on Gush Etzion security barrier

The Council for Peace and Security recommended removing a swath of 26,800 dunams of land out of the government's proposal.

fence 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
fence 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Sunday's second and final High Court hearing on petitions protesting the state's security barrier route around Gush Etzion and Betar Illit boiled down to a contest between two options - the government's proposal and a counter-proposal suggested by the Council for Peace and Security. The court will hand down its ruling at a later date. The obstacle is known as the barrier around Gush Etzion, but the name is misleading. The original Gush Etzion, which was reestablished in 1967 following the Six Day War on the lands of Jewish settlements captured by the Jordanian Legion in 1948, constitute a fraction of the area included in the new enclave. The enclave proposed by the government includes 72,000 dunams of land, of which more than half belongs to Palestinian villagers living inside or beyond the enclave. There are about 55,000 Israelis living inside the enclave, including as many as 40,000 haredi residents of Betar Illit, which is not part of the Gush Etzion Regional Council. Another 15,000 live in the Gush Etzion settlements of Gva'ot, Neveh Daniel, Rosh Tzurim, Bat Ayin, Alon Shvut, Kfar Etzion, Migdal Oz, Elazar and Efrat. Some 20,000 Palestinians live in Nahalin, Wadi Fukin, Husan, Jaba and Batir. The government's plan is based on a concept that differs from the one it has applied until now. Instead of protecting individual settlements as the barrier has done in the past, the "Gush Etzion" barrier treats the entire 72,000-dunam area as one territorial unit, based on the assumption that all of the communities within it are intricately bound to one another and constitute a single entity. Thus, the barrier is also meant to protect the roads linking the settlements to one another and linking all of them to Highway 60, the road to Jerusalem. Col. (Ret.) Danny Tirza told a panel of nine justices headed by Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch that this plan guaranteed the greatest amount of security to the Jewish settlements. Terrorists based in Bethlehem would not be able to reach the Palestinian villages in the enclave, Highway 375 linking Betar Illit to Highway 60 and Highway 60 itself would be situated within the enclave and therefore better protected, and Efrat would be open to the Jewish settlements to its west. The Council for Peace and Security recommended removing a swath of 26,800 dunams of land out of the government's proposal, including three of the five Palestinian villages and much of their land. This area would be separated from the enclave by the barrier and directly linked to Bethlehem. It would revert to being part of the West Bank. The proposal calls for building an additional barrier, 23 kilometers in length and cutting across the government's enclave, leaving about one-third of the enclave on the West Bank side. That would mean, however, that a segment of 3.5 kilometers of Highway 60 would be inside Palestinian territory. According to the government proposal, any Palestinian wishing to enter the "Gush Etzion" enclave would have to undergo a routine security check but would not need a permit, as he would in any other seam area. The council's proposal would oblige Palestinians wishing to enter the enclave to obtain permits. The Council for Peace and Security blasted the government for leaving a stretch of 7.2 kilometers on the western boundary between Israel proper and the "Gush Etzion" enclave without a barrier. Col. (ret.) Shaul Arieli charged that by doing so, the government was leaving Israel open to incursion not only by Palestinians living within the enclave, but to potential Palestinian terrorists from outside who manage to get past the IDF security check and into the bloc.