In less than three weeks, the portion of Route 443 that runs through the West Bank is due to open to Palestinian traffic. That's what the High Court of Justice ordered, but as the deadline approaches it seems - as Amos Harel reported in Haaretz yesterday - that the Israel Defense Forces only intends to open part of the highway to Palestinians and will erect an additional roadblock at its entrance, at which Palestinian cars will be scrupulously checked.
Route 443 has become a symbol of a policy of separation - a highway limited to Israeli use. When the road was built, partly on expropriated Palestinian land, the state explicitly said that it would also serve the residents of the Palestinian villages whose land was taken to build it.
Since 2001, after several shooting incidents on the road, the IDF has placed mounds of dirt and garbage and installed concrete barriers and steel gates in order to block all access from the villages and environs. The many Israelis who turned the road into another main route to Jerusalem mostly ignored the fate of the villagers who lived just adjacent to it. They also ignored the state's violation of its explicit commitment to allow free movement on the road to Palestinians.
About five months ago the High Court of Justice ruled that a permanent, total restriction of Palestinian traffic on the road was not permissible, and gave the IDF five months to open the road. The IDF was obligated to fulfill the court's directives without playing games. Now it turns out that the army is trying to deceive both the court and the public by ensuring that opening the highway to Palestinian use will not make a substantial difference, continuing the policy of blocking their access.
There are many roads in the West Bank that are traveled by both Israelis and Palestinians. Route 443 must become just like these roads. The IDF must protect the road, but it has no less of an obligation to protect the character of the state.
The state must maintain the letter and spirit of the High Court's rulings and not maintain separate road systems for Israelis and Palestinians in the occupied territories.
Last night it was announced that, in the wake of reports on the odd way in which the IDF decided to carry out the court's directives, another High Court petition on the matter was filed. It is to be hoped that the court will speak decisively about the army's conduct.
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