High Court set to rule on A-Ram fence petitions

An expanded panel of nine High Court justices headed by retired Supreme Court President Aharon Barak is due on Wednesday to hand down its ruling on petitions objecting to the route of the separation fence cutting off 58,000 Palestinians, including thousands with Israeli resident status, from Jerusalem. One of the petitions was submitted by The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), Bimkom - Planners for Human Rights and several Palestinians who live or work in A-Ram. A second was filed by the head of the A-Ram local council, Sirhan Salameh. Both petitions protested against the construction of a two-and-a-half kilometer-long, six-meter-high wall made of concrete slabs, which runs down the middle of the Jerusalem-Nablus highway. The wall completely cuts off A-Ram from Jerusalem, even though many of the residents of the West Bank town are registered in the Israeli population registry and work or study in Jerusalem. In a separate petition, Salameh objected to the route of the fence south of A-Ram, which cuts the town off from its southern neighborhood of Dahyat el-Barid. The petitions were submitted two-and-a-half years ago. In the meantime, the concrete wall has been completed on the understanding that the state will remove it if the court decides to uphold the petitions. According to the state's plan, Palestinians with Israeli resident status will have to enter Jerusalem by traveling north to the Kalandiya terminal and crossing over after being checked by security officers. ACRI and Bimkom argued that the wall has caused severe damage to A-Ram. Forty percent of the hundreds of businesses in the town have shut down, many residents with Israeli residential status have moved to east Jerusalem, and the educational system has been harmed since many students from A-Ram study in Jerusalem, while many students from the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Beit Hanina and Shuafat study in A-Ram. Three schools in A-Ram have shut down because of the transportation difficulties. During the proceedings, the High Court recognized the Council for Peace and Security, an organization of retired senior security officials, as a "friend of the court" and heard its recommendation to change the boundaries of the capital by building the barrier so as to exclude the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Shuafat, Beit Hanina and Kalandiya and reconnect them to the West Bank. The recommendation would also eliminate the necessity of building the wall cutting off A-Ram from Beit Hanina and Shuafat. During the hearings, Barak indicated that the A-Ram petition was different from those objecting to the route of the fence inside the West Bank, aimed primarily at protecting Jewish settlements in the territories. In the A-Ram case, the fence is being constructed in Israel proper according to the law that unified the city. Barak indicated that the state was entitled to build the wall where it thought best within Israeli territory.