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The High Court of Justice yesterday issued a temporary injunction requiring the state to explain within 45 days why it had confiscated privately owned Palestinian land in southern Jerusalem for the separation fence.

The land, mostly under traditional terraced cultivation, belongs to residents of the Palestinian village of Walajeh. The petition was submitted by attorney Jawat Nasser, along with environmental groups, the Ir Amim Association and a real estate firm, Givat Yael, which wants to establish a Jewish neighborhood in the area.

The High Court asked the state to explain why it would not find a different route for the fence, especially considering that the fence's planner and head of its administration, Danny Tirza, has proposed changing the route to include Walajeh within Israeli territory.

Nasser also presented the opinion of a military expert, Col. (res. ) Yuval Dvir of the Council for Peace and Security, who said the fence could be built close to the Green Line without damaging the villagers' lands.

Work on the fence near Walajeh began a few months ago, initiating a legal battle by villagers, environmental organizations and settlers to prevent damage to the cultivated terraces that are part of the area's unique landscape.

The court is allowing the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel to file a "friend of the court" brief on the case. The society's environmental conservation coordinator for the Judean Hills, Avraham Shaked, wrote that the terraced agriculture and ancient irrigation systems are part of an ancient landscape that would be irreparably damaged by the fence's construction.

The residents have been trying in recent years to complete a master plan for Walajeh, but have failed to get it approved by the Jerusalem municipality, which has jurisdiction over part of the village.