High Court Allows Palestinians to Use Israeli Highway

Second time in months Supreme Court orders the military to open roads deemed off-limits to Palestinians.

The High Court of Justice on Tuesday accepted a petition to allow Palestinians access to Israeli Highway 443, which runs through the West Bank and was previously deemed off limits to them.

The Association for Human Rights in Israel filed the appeal to the Supreme Court to allow Palestinians to travel on the highway and Bitounia road, also in the area.

Justices Dorit Beinisch and Uzi Fogelman said that the military does not have the authority to impose a permanent and sweeping limitation on Palestinian travel along the West Bank section of the road because that in effect transforms the road into a route designed for 'internal' Israeli traffic alone.

It also said the closure of the road does not benefit the local population, from whom lands were appropriated to build it. The judges ruled that security considerations cannot take precedence.

"It's a huge victory," said Melanie Takefman, spokeswoman for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, which represented the Palestinians in their petition before the court.

The restrictions caused hardships for tens of thousands of Palestinians, who were forced to travel on dirt roads to other areas of the West Bank. That problem was eased last year with the opening of alternative paved routes for Palestinians.

Palestinian Hassan Mafarjeh, the mayor of Beit Liqya village near the highway, said the alternate road was not a solution. "We reject the principle that our land is expropriated to build more roads," he said.

He said the trip to the main city in the area, Ramallah, took an hour on the dirt roads and 30 minutes on the alternate road. Using the highway would cut that to just 15 minutes, he said.

Tuesday's ruling marks the second time in months that Israel's Supreme Court has ordered the military to open West Bank roads deemed off-limits to Palestinians.

The court ordered the military to reopen West Bank sections of the road linking Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and stated that there is no reason for such a sweeping ban on Palestinian travel on the road at this time.

The road was closed to Palestinians in 2002 after Palestinian militants shot at Israeli vehicles traveling on that route, at times killing motorists.

Palestinians living in West Bank villages near the road petitioned to reopen it in 2007.

The court ruled that its order is to go into effect within five months.