West Bank construction
Construction work on the security fence in the West Bank. Photo by Daniel Bar-On
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The Defense Ministry picked up the pace of work on the separation fence near the Palestinian village of Walajeh, south of Jerusalem this week, village residents and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel say.

The residents had petitioned the High Court of Justice, asking it to order the state to find an alternative route for the fence. The current route would surround the village on three sides and separate it from large tracts of its land.

The SPNI, which joined the petition as a "friend of the court," opposes the route, which it says would critically damage the area's unique terrace landscape.

During a court hearing Sunday, it came out that the order to expropriate village lands for the fence, which enabled the work to begin, had expired a year ago. The state's representative had no satisfactory explanation for this, so the court issued an injunction requiring the state to explain within 45 days why the work should not be stopped. However, the justices did not order the work stopped.

The Palestinians and the SPNI say that since the injunction was issued, the Defense Ministry and the contractors have been working much faster than before. Yesterday, for example, there were five bulldozers and other heavy equipment working on a half-kilometer stretch of the fence, and other heavy equipment working elsewhere around the village.

"Yesterday and today they've been working like crazy," said Ahmed Barghut, a resident of Walajeh whose house is near the work site.

The Defense Ministry says the construction is continuing at the same pace as before, and that the court rejected the petition to stop the work.

"An appeals committee found the route met the demand to limit damage to the fabric of Palestinian life and took nature and landscape into consideration," it said.