The Israeli army last week began tearing down a section of its separation barrier in the West Bank near Bil’in village, where weekly protests have become a symbol of opposition to the wall’s encroachment on Palestinian land. The rerouting of the barrier, after long delays, was a rare instance in which Israeli military officials were forced to change plans by a court order. It comes four years after the Israeli Supreme Court ruled on a petition by villagers that the barrier’s route did not serve security needs, but cut through village farmland for purposes of expanding the adjacent Israeli settlement of Modi’in Ilit, a fast-growing town of ultra-Orthodox Jews. The court ordered the barrier torn down and rebuilt closer to the settlement.
At Bil’in, the fence cut the village off from a hill covered with olive trees, where a new neighborhood of Modi’in Ilit was planned. The Supreme Court found in its 2007 ruling that the planned expansion of the settlement was not sufficient grounds for fencing off the land. Delays by the Defense Ministry in implementing the decision led to two contempt of court rulings in response to motions by villagers. The court rejected two alternative routes for the fence proposed by military officials, on the grounds that they enclosed too much land as a reserve for expansion of Modi’in Ilit. A third route was accepted in 2009, and the army built a new barrier, closer to to the settlement. On June 26, bulldozers began tearing down the old fence, a section two miles long.
Col. Sa’ar Tzur, the regional brigade commander, told reporters that the new route would restore some 140 acres to Bil’in, leaving about 50 acres of village farmland beyond the new barrier. Villag residents say that the actual area of seized land is much larger than that. Michael Sfard, an Israeli human rights lawyer who represented the Bil’in villagers in the case, said that he had warned in a letter to the Israeli authorities several weeks earlier that if the barrier section was not removed by July 1, he would file another contempt of court motion. Sfard added that in delaying implementation, the Defense Ministry had “given preference to settlement expansion over fulfilling the court ruling to the letter.” (WP, June 26)
Hundreds of Palestinians and foreign activists gathered at the Qalandia checkpoint north of Jerusalem on July 10 to launch a campaign urging the international community to demand implementation of a World Court ruling to demolish the separation wall. The campaign is being supported by popular committees and local organizations across Palestine, as well as by a number of foreign activists who managed to enter Palestine recently as part of the “flytilla” protest. (Ma’an News Agency, July 10)