Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem petitioned Israel’s High Court of Justice to open a road to their Isawiyah neighborhood, which has been closed for 20 years, since the second intifada.
The petitioners argue that the road, between Isawiyah and the Hebrew University, isn’t being kept shut for security reasons, as the Israeli authorities claim, and that blocking it constitutes collective punishment against the neighborhood’s 20,000 residents.
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Justice Ofer Grosskopf instructed the state to respond to the petition by May 13.
Al-Haruba Street, the only road connecting Isawiyah and the university, has been almost always closed for the past two decades. Al-Haruba also leads to the closest exit from the neighborhood toward Jerusalem’s Old City and Mount Scopus. It is one of the four roads leading out of the neighborhood, and one of only two exits to Jerusalem.
The other two lead to the Jerusalem-Ma’aleh Adumim road. Police first blocked the road with a dirt berm at the beginning of the second intifada, in 2000, saying that passage through the neighborhood was dangerous. Shortly thereafter, local residents and Israeli leftist activists dismantled the roadblock during a protest. The police then replaced it with concrete blocks.
The road was reopened in 2011, but closed again in the summer of 2014 after an outbreak of violence following the kidnap and murder of Palestinian teen Mohammed Abu Khdeir by a group of Jewish Israelis. Since then, the road has remained closed.
The petition states that the roadblock places a great burden on the residents, causes constant traffic jams and requires schoolchildren, university students and people who want to pray on at Al-Aqsa Mosque to walk long distances and waste time just leaving the neighborhood.
The petition, filed by the human rights group HaMoked: Center for the Defense of the Individual, also argues that the roadblock delays the entry of emergency vehicles to Isawiyah.
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As an example, the petition describes how it took firefighters 40 minutes to arrive at a burning home. Neighbors evacuated the family and put out the fire, which destroyed much of the house.
A previous petition on the matter in 2015 was closed after the police said they would consider removing the roadblock, but eventually decided not to.
In recent years, the police and the State Prosecuter's office have claimed that the street is blocked for security reasons. Before the petition was filed, the attorney general’s office told HaMoked: "The roadblock is in place for security and operational reasons…this is not ‘punishment,’ certainly not ‘collective punishment.’ The professional and operational considerations underlying the need to install the roadblock still exist, and even more so at this time."
The police subsequently submitted a list of incidents where stones and incendiary devices were thrown in the area. In response, the petitioners said that none of the cases mentioned were serious and that in any case, the roadblock does not help in those instances.