Israeli high court orders West Bank road open to Palestinians

Israel’s supreme court Dec. 29 ordered the military to allow Palestinians to travel on part of a major highway that runs through the West Bank. The move, heralded by human rights activists, reopens to Palestinians a 20-kilometer section of Route 443, which links Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. “It’s a huge victory,” said Melanie Takefman, a spokeswoman for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, which represented the six Palestinian villages that appealed to the court to lift the ban.

The army cut off Palestinian access to the road after a series of attacks on Israeli motorists in 2002. That move turned what had been a 15-minute drive for tens of thousands of Palestinian residents into an hour of travel on dirt roads.

The court ruled the military did not have the authority to permanently limit Palestinian travel along the West Bank section of the road, as such a move “in effect transforms the road into a route designed for ‘internal’ Israeli traffic alone.” The court also found that the closure of the road “does not benefit the local population, from whom lands were appropriated to build it.” The ruling gives the military five months to implement its ruling.

In an earlier case, in 1982, when the land for the road was being expropriated, military authorities told the court that the road would benefit Palestinians. About half of the 32-kilometer highway runs through the West Bank. Palestinian travel had been restricted from Beit Sira village and five others.

A paved road was opened for Palestinians last year to ease some of the pressure caused by the highway closure. But Hassan Mafarjeh, the Palestinian mayor of Beit Liqya, one of the villages near the highway, said the alternate road was not a solution. “We reject the principle that our land is expropriated to build more roads,” he said.

Under existing regulations, sections of the road that lie in Israeli territory will remain closed to Palestinian vehicles, as are all Israeli roads. About 160 kilometers of roads in the West Bank remain off limits to Palestinians. (AlJazeera, Dec. 30)

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