Israel said on Wednesday it would re-route part of its disputed West Bank barrier after its highest court ordered changes to prevent Palestinians being cut off from their farms, schools and cities.
A three-judge panel said its unanimous thumbs-down to a planned 30-km (18-mile) segment of the barrier would set guidelines for hearings on around 20 Palestinian petitions against other sections of the network of fences and walls.
The Defence Ministry promised to move parts of the barrier based on the landmark High Court finding that Israel’s need for security did not allow it to give short shrift to the rights of the nearby Palestinian population.
“The replanning of these sections will be based on the principles set by the High Court, namely the proper balance between security and humanitarian considerations,” the ministry said in a statement.
It noted that the court said Israel had a right to build a barrier on requisitioned land for security reasons. Please see ISRAEL on page
Palestinians call the barrier a disguised attempt to annex occupied territory they want for a future state since it often snakes well into the West Bank to take in Jewish settlements Israel’s government vows never to yield under any peace deal.
Israel says the barrier, 200 km (125 miles) of which have been built, aims to keep out Palestinian suicide bombers who have infiltrated Israeli cities and killed hundreds of people.
In 10 days the International Court of Justice in The Hague is expected to issue an advisory ruling on the barrier’s legality as requested by the United Nations.
“This is a courageous and very important (High Court) ruling,” said Mohammed Dahleh, lawyer for the eight petitioning villages with around 35,000 people.
“This decision is more important than the one at The Hague because this one will be followed… It says that the wall as it is being built is illegal and there is another way to build it that will give security to Israel but won’t violate Palestinian rights,” he told reporters at the court.
The court said the decision affected some 3,540 hectares (8,500 acres) of Palestinian land, almost all of it cultivated.
Zigzagging spurs of the barrier have hemmed in tens of thousands of West Bank villagers. Their access to family farms, markets, hospitals, schools and other public services has been blocked or severely restricted as a result.
The court said the 30-km stretch near Jerusalem would separate thousands of farmers from olive and citrus groves and it canceled land confiscation orders issued for the region.
“The current path would generally burden the entire way of life in traditional villages,” it said.
“The military commander must consider alternatives that do exist … Even if they result in a lower level of security, they should bring a substantial — even if not complete — reduction in the damage to the lives of the local inhabitants.”
Israel’s government argued to the court that the barrier, expected to extend more than 600 km (370 miles), must be erected well into the West Bank in some places rather than along the boundary to provide a security buffer.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie said the barrier should be removed altogether, calling it “an act of aggression.”
The Defense Ministry said it would keep building the barrier as it had “already proven its worthiness in saving lives.”