- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 15, 2005

TEL AVIV — Israel’s Supreme Court yesterday ordered the government to dismantle and reroute a portion of its West Bank security barrier, ruling on behalf of five Palestinian villages isolated by the obstacle.

But even as the 9-0 ruling opened future challenges to the two-year-old network of electronic fence and concrete walls, the judges for the first time confirmed the legality of erecting a separation barrier inside the West Bank to protect Israeli citizens.

The decision rejected the July 2004 opinion by the United Nations’ judicial arm that the more-than 400-mile obstacle — built to repel terrorist attacks against Israelis and one-third complete — violates international law because it is built on territory under military occupation.

While the court criticized the International Court of Justice’s sweeping rejection of building the security barrier in the West Bank, it ruled that the specific sections of the fence must not unreasonably hamper living conditions for Palestinians.

The court sided with a group of Palestinian villages near the West Bank city of Qalqilyah whose residents were cut off from relatives, mosques and social services in larger Arab towns after being closed inside an Israeli enclave created to protect the Jewish settlement of Alfei Menashe.

“The enclave creates a chokehold around the villages. It seriously damages the entire fabric of life,” wrote Israeli Chief Justice Aharon Barak in the 66-page decision. “Based upon the factual basis as presented to us, the existing route of the fence seems strange … We are by no means persuaded that there is a decisive security-military reason for setting the fence route where it presently is.”

Israel’s defense ministry now must consider alternatives to the path that separates about 1,200 Palestinians in five small villages from the rest of the West Bank. According to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, which brought the petition on behalf of the Palestinian villages of Wadi a-Rasha and Ras a-Tira, at least four more legal challenges to the fence’s route in other areas are making their way to the Israeli Supreme Court.

The first third of the fence already has been completed around the northern hub of the West Bank, and another 100 miles are being built. The government shifted the planned path of the fence earlier this year after a June 2004 Supreme Court ruling forced the government to reconsider blueprints for a fence route in between the village of Beit Surik and the Jerusalem suburb of Mevasseret Tziyon.

The decision yesterday marks the first time the court has instructed the government to tear down a part of the fence that already has been built.

Dana Alexander, the head of the legal department of Association for Civil Rights in Israel, said the decision marks an important precedent.

“The court ordered the government to dismantle the existing fence,” she said. “That means all the existing parts of the fence can be submitted to judicial review, and if they are found to violate Palestinian rights unjustifiably, the state can be ordered to dismantle the fence.”

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