Court Asked to Fire Settler Who Planned Route of Separation Fence

Palestinians yesterday petitioned the High Court of Justice to order the state to dismiss Danny Tirza, the man responsible for planning the route of the separation fence, arguing that Tirza has a conflict of interests because he lives in a settlement that is slated to remain on the Israeli side of the fence.

The petition, submitted by attorney Shlomo Lecker on behalf of the Abu Dis local council and the residents of the Jerusalem-area town, also demanded that all work on the fence in the vicinity of Tirza's hometown, Kfar Adumim, be suspended until Tirza is replaced and "professionals with no personal interest in the route" reconsider it. Lecker charged that Kfar Adumim was included in the fence to annex territory rather than for security reasons.

Lecker told the court that he submitted the petition after having tried and failed to persuade Attorney General Menachem Mazuz to oust Tirza. In his letter to Mazuz, Lecker claimed that Tirza is politically identified with the Yesha Council of Jewish Settlements in Judea and Samaria.

"Entrusting the planning of the route of the 'security' obstacle in the area around Ma'aleh Adumim to a resident of this area, who has clear political views and is subject to pressure and influence from his neighbors ... is unacceptable, due to the conflict of interests stemming from Mr. Tirza's place of residence and his political affiliation," he wrote. However, a Justice Ministry spokesman said that there is no record of this letter ever having reached the ministry.

The petition claimed that the route of the fence around Ma'aleh Adumim, which was approved by the cabinet in February 2005, will encompass 120 square kilometers of the West Bank, including 12 settlements that occupy 12 square kilometers of land. This route, Lecker argued, was clearly aimed at annexing as much land as possible rather than strictly at providing security.

In a previous ruling, he noted, the High Court stressed that the army has no right to build the fence for diplomatic or political reasons, such as annexing land or setting Israel's borders.

In addition to demanding Tirza's ouster, the petitioners asked the court to cancel all orders to expropriate land in Abu Dis for the sake of the fence's construction, or alternatively, to reroute the fence so that it does not pass through any land belonging to Abu Dis or its residents.

The petition charged that the current route will cause severe hardship, because it sever s the only remaining north-south road open to Palestinians in the West Bank. While the state has promised that arrangements will be made to enable north-south traffic to continue, it has not yet explained how this will be done or what the timetable for completing these arrangements will be, the petition said.

Moreover, it said, the current route will turn the towns of Abu Dis and Suwahra into isolated enclaves cut off from the rest of the West Bank. Israel has already cut these towns off from East Jerusalem, the nearest urban center, the petition said; cutting them off from the West Bank as well will thus have devastating social and economic consequences.

The petition also claimed that 41 percent of Abu Dis' land will be left on the Israeli side of the fence, meaning that the fence will cost the town a major portion of its land reserves for future expansion. The remainder of these reserves, it charged, were previously expropriated to form part of a "closed military area," and are now being used for the benefit of nearby settlements.

The court is slated to hear another petition against the route of the fence around Ma'aleh Adumim this coming Monday.