Despite Court Ruling, Palestinian Use of Route 443 Likely to Be Limited

Palestinian motorists will not be allowed to use the highway to drive to Jerusalem, Ramallah or points west of the Green Line.

By dint of a ruling passed down by the High Court of Justice, Route 443 - the main artery connecting Jerusalem and Modi'in - will be open by the end of the month to Palestinian motorists who reside in villages adjacent to the roadway. This will mark the first time in almost nine years that Palestinians will be permitted to use the highway, yet the volume of Palestinian traffic is likely to be very limited.

According to a plan developed by the Israel Defense Forces, Palestinian-owned vehicles will be subject to thorough security checks before being allowed to access the highway. Moreover, Palestinian motorists will only be permitted to drive along a limited stretch of the roadway - a section that abuts the local Arab villages and extends to a new checkpoint to be erected near the Ofer prison. They will not be allowed to use the highway to drive to Jerusalem, Ramallah or points west of the Green Line.

The High Court ruling initially drew praise from leftist organizations and human rights groups who argued it ended an unnecessary and prolonged policy of discrimination. In practice, however, it appears the ruling will effect limited change on the ground.

Roadblock on Route 443
Nir Kafri

In late 2001, in the wake of a string of murderous terrorist attacks along the route which claimed the lives of Israeli civilians, the IDF cited security concerns in banning Palestinians from using the roadway. In December 2009, the High Court partially accepted the petition filed jointly by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and local Palestinian residents, demanding the highway be accessible to Palestinians.

The panel of justices, headed by Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, determined that the state could not impose an unlimited, blanket ban on Palestinian use of the road, saying a roadway that caters solely to Israeli drivers discriminates against local Palestinians.

The court noted that the road was paved over privately owned Palestinian lands that had been confiscated by the state. At the time it was built, in the 1980s, the state argued that the highway would also serve to benefit Palestinian motorists.

In their December 2009 ruling, the justices granted the IDF five months to institute security arrangements along the highway before reopening it to Palestinian use. The five-month period expires on May 29.

The army plans to allow Palestinian access via two entry points: the junctions connecting the road to the villages of Beit Sira and Beit Ur al-Fuka. The IDF will conduct vehicle searches at checkpoints to be placed near the junctions.

Beyond that, Palestinian motorists who do not receive special authorization to drive to Jerusalem will not be permitted to continue eastward past the Ofer prison checkpoint. Nor will villagers wishing to travel toward Ramallah be allowed to pass through.

Military sources confirmed to Haaretz that these were indeed the army's plans, yet they added that the IDF had made its intentions clear to the High Court during the hearings.

"Access roads connecting the villages along 443 with Ramallah, some of which pass underneath the highway at multi-level intersections, have been in place for a long time and they were built at great cost," said one source. "The fact that the residents will be permitted to use the road does not mean that they should be allowed to enter the Jerusalem area in their car. These things are already known to the High Court, which approved it."