Border Control / Sitting on the fence
At the edge of Independence Park in the heart of Jerusalem there is a new, high, white wall. In the wall is a door guarded by a stern-faced watchman. Here they are building the Museum of Tolerance under the auspices of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, on a Muslim cemetery.
The tolerant Jews of America, who were given the land by then mayor Ehud Olmert, apparently suspect that not everyone thinks their museum is a symbol of tolerance. One of them, Prof. Yehoshua Ben-Arieh, an Israel Prize laureate for geography, who has written a critical opinion against the damage to the cemetery, suggested in a discussion at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute the establishment of an independent public committee to re-examine the issue. The representatives of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, among them attorney Shmuel Berkowitz, declared that the legal authorization they received from the High Court of Justice is enough.
Nonetheless, it turns out that Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, of the very same court that recently rejected the petitions against the building of the museum in Mamilla, is not certain that this ruling emits an air of tolerance. While a bench headed by Supreme Court Justice Ayala Procaccia has ruled that the building of the museum should be permitted on the eastern part of the cemetery, Beinisch decided to suspend the construction of an important public building on the western part.
Across the road, a few meters from the wall of the museum, where the Experimental School now stands, an expansive courthouse was slated to go up. This would entail the digging of especially deep foundations and damage to old graves. The planning commissions have approved the plan, the government Housing Administration at the Finance Ministry has allocated the money and architects are waiting impatiently for the tender.
Yet nevertheless, in the wake of discussions with the participation of representatives of the municipality, the Antiquities Authority and others, Beinisch has said that she wants to re-think the whole matter. A spokesperson for the Courts Administration has informed Haaretz that, "the responsibility for dealing with this belongs to the government Housing Administration, and the president of the Supreme Court and/or the director of the Courts Administration, Judge Moshe Gal, have not made any committed decision on the issue. At this stage the matter is not on the agenda."
It won't be easy for Beinisch to climb off the fence. If she approves the plan, she will be subjected to criticism for hurting the feelings of the Muslim minority. If she rejects it, there will undoubtedly be those who will wonder why the right hand of the High Court of Justice approves the building of a museum in the cemetery while the left hand rejects the building of a courthouse there.
The settler road map
Petitions by Palestinians against the fences blocking them from the main road and forcing them to travel circuitous routes have long been cases of dog-bites-man.
However, it isn't every day that Jewish settlers petition against the separation fence for having lengthened their trip to a provincial town by a few kilometers. The petition by the Western Benjamin Settlements Committee, and the state's response, teach us something else about the character of the lords of the land: the extent to which they are impervious not only to the suffering of their Palestinian neighbors, but also to the security of Israel Defense Forces soldiers.
In a statement he submitted to the High Court of Justice, Colonel Ofer Hindi, Head of the unit in the central command responsible for planning the separation fence, said that the Beitunya bypass route was closed to Israelis when the intifada broke out because of danger to travelers' lives.
According to him, in the area of the Beitunya crossing point, there have been about 200 incidents of disruption of order, including the throwing of stones and molotov cocktails and burning tires at the security barrier.
Today too, it is subject to security threats. Palestinian terror groups are active in that part of the West Bank and the threat to the lives of Israelis who move through the nearby area is palpable. Inhabitants are forced to travel to Jerusalem via Road 443, which lengthens the trip by about 20 kilometers.
According to Hindi, to spare the settlers trouble, the paving of a new road would necessitate the seizure or expropriation of 470 to 600 dunams, of them 183 to 276 dunams of land privately owed by Palestinians, and damage to thousands of olive trees.
This would also lead to the total destruction of significant archaeological sites from the time of the Second Temple and structures from the Iron Age up until the Hellenistic period, as well as remains of buildings from the Byzantine era.
In addition to all this damage, paving a new road would force the IDF to allocate additional manpower, which is not available, to secure the road and to set up barriers along its length.
Apart from impeding Palestinians' freedom of movement, operating the roadblocks is liable to put the soldiers manning them in real security danger. And we have not yet asked how much the paving of a road 7.5 kilometers long would cost the taxpayer.
All of this, stresses Hindi, would be only in order to shorten the travel time for the petitioners when there is a reasonable alternative at their disposal that allows them to reach Jerusalem in a more secure way and without causing unnecessary damage to private property.
The colonel notes that the court has recognized that there are situations in which security considerations make mobility difficult for the inhabitants of the West Bank. He is referring, of course, to the Palestinian inhabitants.
It will be interesting to see whether the bench at the High Court of Justice will recognize that Jews, too, Jews who have chosen to live outside the sovereign territory of their country, can also be permitted to sweat it out on the roads.