Analysis: The wall in the court room

Whether the security wall near Battir gets extended or not, it appears that overall this will be just one more round between two perspectives on resolving security, human rights and cultural issues in the West Bank.

Battir cultural landscape site 370 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Battir cultural landscape site 370
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The battle lines were drawn in stone, almost like a wall.
On one side of the court room before the High Court of Justice on Wednesday was the state attorney and a colonel from the IDF’s Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria.
On the other side were the villagers of Battir, the Friends of the Earth Middle East (FOEME) and, surprisingly, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.
That’s right – the state was arguing with itself, with an unprecedented defection by the Authority joining the fight against a new extension of the West Bank barrier through the well-known Battir cultural site.
An all-out battle for Battir, a West Bank village and well-known cultural landscape in the Judean Hills, was on full display with no fewer than five parties weighing in.
Litigants interrupting each other in Israeli courts is par for the course, but dozens of interruptions, punctuated with attacks saying that what the other side was presenting to the court as fact was blatantly false is not.
Clearly, the litigants were adversaries more than just with respect to the case before the court.
At one point, one of the petitioners’ attorneys, top human rights lawyer Michael Sfard, interrupted the IDF colonel saying that he was neither an attorney nor an archeologist and should keep his comments focused on security issues only instead of straying into giving an opinion that the harm to the landscape would be negligible.
The colonel responded that he spent almost every day surveying West Bank areas and that the petitioners’ attorneys were stating many inaccuracies about security issues.
In one back and forth, the colonel and the attorneys even appeared to stray into debating where last month’s Tel Aviv bus bomber came from, with Sfard suggesting that it was an internal security problem and the colonel saying it was external and that Sfard was interpreting the facts in his own interest.
Both sides appeared to chuckle and laugh at the other side’s claims as they were presented, in a sign of psychological warfare.
The judges, unusually, also got in several laughs and had more conferences than usual during the proceedings, although it was unclear who they were laughing at since they whisper to one another when conferring and are seated several meters away from everyone else.
The only exception to the wall between the sides inside the courtroom was when the villagers’ attorney and the IDF colonel had to awkwardly sit next to each other for 10 minutes while the attorney was running his slideshow.
There was no other place for him to operate the projector if the judges would be able to view the screen.
The screen was also a big hit, with no fewer than three slideshow presentations of the same landscape, but each one drawing completely different conclusions about what would happen to the flow of water throughout the landscape and other issues.
And who was the face of the Parks Authority’s for attacking the state and the IDF’s position? One might have expected someone who looked leftward leaning, or maybe an Israeli-Arab.
Instead it was a large, kippa-wearing, extremely long-bearded religious Jew, who looked a lot more like the settlers who are usually sitting next to the state and the IDF in hearings on the wall’s route.
Why was he protesting the new wall construction? Aside from any of the issues raised by the petitioners, he was highlighting that the construction would harm a second- century outpost from the Bar-Kochba revolt that the Authority claimed is equivalent in value to the much more famous site of Masada.
Outside the courtroom the tension dissipated.
The colonel clearly knew and was making conversation with the Palestinian villagers.
He also knew and seemed to be trying to charm the religious Jew representing the Parks Authority to possibly tamp down his opposition, and promised to try to protect “every rock” he came across.
The couple dozen or so Palestinian villagers and numerous media representatives were also trying to make sense of what had just happened and how the court may rule.
Whether the wall gets extended or not in this case, while a major battle, it appears that overall this will be just one more round between two sides who continue to be walled off from each others’ perspectives on resolving security, human rights and cultural issues in the West Bank.