Court Orders State to Alter West Bank Separation Fence Route at Bil'in

High Court rejects gov't security arguments over fence sector that has long been focus of protests.

The High Court of Justice Tuesday ordered the state to redraw, partially dismantle and rebuild the route of a 1.7 kilometer section of the West Bank separation fence, which was built on land belonging to Bil'in, a Palestinian village which has become a focus of opposition to the barrier.

For nearly three years, the fence has been at the focus of weekly demonstrations at Bil'in, punctuated by violent confrontations between protesters and soldiers and police deployed at the site.

The existing fence route is built around a part of the Matitiyahu East neighborhood of Modi'in Illit settlement. The government had argued that the route was necessary to protect residents of Modi'in Illit, and completed the section of fence that cut through Bil'in despite the protests.

The three-judge panel, headed by Chief Justice Dorit Beinish, unanimously accepted an appeal petition by the head of the Bil'in local council against the route of the fence and its presence on land belonging to the village. They ordered defense planners to change the barrier's route so it causes less harm to the village's residents

The fence occupies 260 dunams of village land. It also blocks access to another 1,700 dunams between the barrier and the pre-1967 Green Line border.

Residents of the village went to court arguing that the current route, built on village land, kept them from their fields and orchards, which remained on the other side of the barrier.

Rejecting the government's argument, Beinish wrote in her decision that "We were not convinced that it is necessary for security-military reasons to retain the current route that passes on Bil'in's lands."

The judges specified that this will require destroying the existing fence in certain places and building a new one, and ordered the government to come up with a new route in a reasonable period of time.

Abdullah Abu Rahma, one of the leaders of the weekly protest at Bil'in, called the court decision "wonderful."

"We want the decision to be implemented immediately," he said.

The Defense Ministry said in a statement that it would study the ruling and respect it.

Israel began building the 680-kilometer (425-mile) barrier along the West Bank in 2002, crediting the fence with contribuiting to a decline in suicide bombings. But the barrier juts into West Bank territory, provoking Palestinian claims that Israel is using security arguments to mask a land grab.