Mel Frkyberg
The Washington Times
August 8, 2008 - 3:38pm

BIL'IN, West Bank | The Israeli High Court of Justice has given the state 45 days to submit a new route for part of the separation wall that cuts through this Palestinian village near Ramallah in the central West Bank.

Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch and Justices Eliezer Rivlin and Ayala Procaccia also criticized the state's representative for ignoring a previous court ruling on the issue just over a year ago after the Bil'in Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements took the state to court.

An angry Mr. Beinisch told the state's representative, Avi Licht: "We rule that this route cannot remain as is, and we determine what will and will not be in the new route."

The Palestinian villagers originally petitioned the court in 2005 through their Israeli attorney, Michael Sfard, to reroute the wall after arguing that approximately 500 acres of village land had been expropriated from the village for the wall's construction and for the enlargement of Israeli settlements.

The villagers have limited access to this land through a gate in the fence that the Israeli army opens and closes on an irregular basis.

Prior to the villagers' petition, the International Court of Justice in The Hague in 2004 stated that construction of the barrier across the 1967 boundary, in West Bank territory, violated international law.

A Palestinian takes cover behind an access gate as Israeli troops fire rubber bullets and tear gas during a February protest against Israeli's security fence where it cuts off Palestinian farmers from their land in the West Bank village of Bil'in.

Israel rejected the ruling at The Hague, but last September, the High Court of Justice ruled that the route in the Bil'in area was illegal and ordered the state to devise, within a reasonable time, an alternative route that would be less detrimental. The court also instructed the state to plan the route so that it runs through state land, not privately owned Palestinian property.

However, the villagers again petitioned the court two months ago, saying that the state has not presented an alternative, and that work is being conducted on the ground that jeopardizes implementation of the order.

Israel started building the separation wall or barrier to separate Israel proper from the West Bank after a wave of suicide bombings, with many of the bombers coming from the Palestinian territory, killed hundreds and injured thousands of Israelis after the beginning of the second intifada, or Palestinian uprising, which began in late 2000.

However, human rights organizations argue that Israel is pursuing a land grab and a policy of collective punishment in the name of security.

The barrier significantly deviates from the internationally recognized Green Line, the demarcation route after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, cutting into Palestinian territory as Israel tries to incorporate illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank into Israel.

This has caused untold hardship for Palestinians, especially farmers, with many being cut off from their agricultural fields, while other villagers have been separated from their families and social services.

There are also Palestinian communities that are trapped in pockets between the Green Line and the separation barrier. Only a minority with special security clearance can cross the Green Line into Israel. Special permits are also required to pass through the separation barrier to access the rest of the West Bank.

The success of Bil'in villagers in petitioning the high court was also partially a result of intense media coverage and international scrutiny after weekly demonstrations by the villagers, Israeli sympathizers and international activists, many of whom were wounded during the protests.

Several months ago, the visiting vice president of the European Parliament, a Northern Irish Nobel Peace Prize laureate and a senior Italian judge were all injured while taking part in a demonstration against the wall

The chairman of Bil'in's Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements, Abdallah Abu Rahma, told the Middle East Times that his committee's campaign of nonviolent civil disobedience "has been largely successful due to the support of both Israelis and internationals."

While Mr. Sfard was pleased about the court's recent decision again backing the rights of Bil'in villagers, he expressed reservations about the final outcome, saying that despite the high court rejecting four of the state's routes to date, the Israeli government still had not complied with a single verdict.

In the interim, as the villagers await the final routing of the fence through their village, Bil'in village committee has filed two lawsuits against two Canadian construction companies that are building condominiums in the village for Israeli settlers.

The Fourth Geneva Convention specifically forbids the transfer of a civilian population onto occupied territory.

Meanwhile, the Jerusalem District Court is battling the Jerusalem municipality that is refusing to seal and evacuate a building occupied illegally by Israeli settlers in the Silwan district of East Jerusalem.

The court first ordered the Israeli settlers to vacate the building 18 months ago. Since then the issue has been debated eight times, including twice in the Supreme Court. The latest ruling in the case was handed down last week by the Jerusalem District Court, which rejected an appeal by the settlers living in the building and denied a request to delay its evacuation.

Palestinians and human rights organizations accuse some Israeli groups, and the Jerusalem municipality, of carrying out a policy to establish facts on the ground by Judaizing East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as the capital of a future Palestinian state, in a bid to ensure a higher Jewish demography.

Under International law, East Jerusalem belongs to the Palestinians.


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