Supreme Court Orders IDF to Open Route 443 to Palestinians

The Supreme Court yesterday revoked the ban on Palestinians traveling or walking on Route 443, ruling it was unauthorized and disproportional.

President of the Supreme Court Dorit Beinisch and Justice Uzi Fogelman voted against the ban. Justice Edmond Levy voted in favor, saying that the decision to limit the use of the route was authorized and based on security considerations.

The justices ruled that the military had five months to find a solution that would provide security to those using the road.

However, the justices also ruled that there should be no interference in the judgment of the military commander in the area with regards to limiting travel on the road leading from the Ofer military base to Bitunia, which is near Ramallah.

Route 443 links the area near the Ben Shemen interchange and Modi'in to the Ofer camp junction, near Givat Ze'ev - a highway of about 25 kilometers in length. According to statistics presented to the court by the security officials, about 40,000 vehicles use the road daily.

Two years ago, the Association for the Civil Rights in Israel and residents of six Palestinian villages situated alongside the road appealed to the court to lift the ban.

The security establishment argued that the ban on the use of a 14 kilometer portion, between the Maccabim-Reut junction in the west, to the Ofer camp junction on the east, stems from the fact that the road has become a "security Achilles heel" and a target for terrorist attacks, which over the years have claimed lives.

During the early part of the second intifada, Palestinians in nearby villages would demonstrate alongside the road and often threw stones and Molotov cocktails at Israeli vehicles passing by.

Initially the Palestinians were restricted from using the road, but since 2002, in view of the escalation in the security instability due to the intifada, a complete ban was imposed.

In May 2004, the Knesset security officer warned against MKs and ministers using the route because of efforts of Palestinian terrorist groups to target them on their way to and from Jerusalem.

At the time, the warning stemmed from intelligence information that the Palestinians would try to target a VIP using shoulder fired missiles.

In spite of the warnings, MKs and ministers continued to use Route 443, which offers a relatively speedy alternative to chronically-clogged Route 1.

Security sources said yesterday that there is no current threat against VIPs traveling on Route 443, and that security assessments are carried out regularly and decisions made accordingly.

Justice Fogelman wrote in the court's decision that notwithstanding the authority of the military commander to impose limitations on the freedom of movement, stemming from his duty to preserve public order and secure the communications arteries in Judea and Samaria, his authority does not extend to imposing a permanent and absolute limitation on the movement of Palestinian vehicles on the road.

In Fogelman's view, preventing Palestinians from using the road transforms it into an "internal usage" road which does not serve the good of the local population. It is for that public benefit, Justice Fogelman points out in his decision, that land for the construction of Route 443 was appropriated.

Supreme Court President Beinisch stressed that the freedom of movement constitutes one of the basic liberties and it is a duty to undertake all necessary measures in order to preserve it in territory held by Israel.