Israeli court rules against segregated road 29Dec09 December 30, 2009

An Israeli soldier stood guard over Highway 443 last year near the Israeli settlement of Beit Horon PHOTO: Rina Castelnuovo

by Ethan Bronner  -  New York Times -  29 December 2009

JERUSALEM — Israel’s Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that a major access highway to Jerusalem running through the occupied West Bank could no longer be closed to most Palestinian traffic.

In a 2-1 decision, the court said that the military had overstepped its authority when in 2002, at the height of the second Palestinian uprising, it closed the road to non-Israeli cars. The justices gave the military five months to come up with another means of ensuring the security of Israelis that permitted broad Palestinian use of the road.

“The court was saying that you can’t reasonably find every Palestinian inhabitant to be a security risk,” noted Moshe Negbi, a legal commentator for Israel Radio, in a telephone interview. “The security considerations are legitimate but they have to find other solutions.”

The closely watched case, argued by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, was brought by a half dozen Palestinian villages where land was expropriated for the road and inhabitants have been barred from using it.

When the land was confiscated three decades ago, the villages objected, saying they had no interest in a new road. But the military argued that the villages would be the main beneficiaries of the highway and the court yielded to that argument, saying occupied land could be developed for the benefit of those living there, not for the occupiers.

But once the uprising began there was stoning and shooting on the road. In 2001, five Israelis were killed there by gunfire and the military cut it off to West Bank Palestinians, placing huge boulders between the Palestinian villages and the 13 miles of highway. Meanwhile, as Israel grew more prosperous and traffic between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv heavier, the road, known as Highway 443, became a major alternative to Israeli commuters. Some 40,000 cars use it every day.

Palestinians who live in Jerusalem, while not Israeli citizens, carry Israeli identity cards and drive cars bearing Israeli plates and have been able to use the highway.

Limor Yehuda, the lawyer who argued the case for the civil rights group, said that she hoped the court would apply the ruling to all segregated roads in the West Bank in order to end the dual system there.

“We can see that as a society we are going in the wrong direction and endangering our basic values of a rule of democracy and rule of law,” she said.

But it was not clear the court would apply the ruling broadly since in some later cases the army took the land for separate roads arguing that its motive was security, not the benefit of the local population.

Ms. Yehuda urged the military to implement the ruling as quickly as possible, saying the freedom of movement for Palestinians is “a right which has been severely infringed on for nearly a decade.”

She had told the court that the rise of segregated roads in recent years approached apartheid but the chief justice, Dorit Beinish, chided her for using that term, calling it inappropriate and extreme.

In the past couple of years, Palestinian violence has subsided substantially and most roads on the West Bank have been opened to both Israeli and Palestinian cars. But there remain about 100 miles of roads there closed to cars bearing Palestinian license plates.

The dissenter in Tuesday’s case, Justice Edmond Levy, argued that the court should leave the situation in the hands of the military and defense ministry, and worried that five months were not enough time to create a new system.

Israeli settler leaders expressed alarm at the court’s decision, saying it would endanger Jewish travelers. They charged that the justices “never missed an opportunity to blame Jews for racism and provide Arabs with convenient conditions for the next terror attack.”

As peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians remain stalled, the threat of violence has risen slightly in recent weeks. Last week, an explosive device made of a gas canister and fireworks was found on Highway 443.

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