Moving West Bank Checkpoint to Block Palestinians From Spring Is Illegal, State Admits in Court

Jerusalem District planner signed the permit to move the checkpoint as chairman of a committee she is not even a member of

The state admitted in a court submission Tuesday that the approval of a plan to move a military checkpoint near the West Bank village of Walaja, south of Jerusalem, was illegal.

The decision to move the checkpoint was made by the Security Facilities Committee, a special committee that provides planning approvals for the security establishment. It emerged that Shira Talmi, who is the Jerusalem District planner, signed the permit as chairman of the committee and attended its meetings, even though she is not even a committee member, let alone its chairman. The discussions were held without a legal quorum – in fact with only one authorized member of the committee there, a Defense Ministry representative – making the permit invalid.

Around a month ago the Jerusalem municipality began intense work on moving the Ein Yael checkpoint 1.5 kilometers westward so that it is closer to Walaja. The aim is to be able to open the Ein Hinye recreation site, which is built around a spring that had been used by Palestinians until the work began. The court was told the checkpoint was being moved to block Palestinians from Walaja and the surrounding area from accessing the spring. The change will also make it difficult for the farmers in Walaja to reach their lands.

In its response to the Jerusalem District Court, the state admitted the process was flawed, but asked the court to allow the work to continue and to dismiss the petition of the Walaja residents under the doctrine of “relative nullity.” “Ms. Talmi serves as the district planner and the vice chairman of the District Planning Committee, so as is customary in the Security Facilities Committee attended its meetings as a member and chairman. Even though no appointment was made the committee accepts that her professional credentials cannot be questioned []. We are therefore talking about a glitch, and the appointment process will be completed in the very near future and in practice no substantive right of the petitioners was undermined,” the state (the Defense Ministry and the Israel Defense Forces) told the court. In the court hearing Tuesday, state attorney Moran Braun said Talmi’s status on the committee could be settled within a few days.

Attorney Ghaith Nasser, who filed the petition on behalf of the Walaja residents, rejected the state’s arguments.

“I think that what happened in this case is a scandal. They want the court to give legal validity to an outrage whose entire management from beginning to end is stained by blatant illegality,” he said at the hearing. “I don’t think that this is a fault that can be repaired. What we have here essentially is a hearing before a single member of a committee, a representative of the defense minister. [] When the court is asked to approve such a thing despite all the faults, the role of the court is to champion the principle of the rule of law and explain that this isn’t how it’s done.”

Judge Oded Shaham ordered the state to update the court regarding the steps it plans to take. A ruling on the petition will be given at a later date.

Construction employees work to move Ein Yael checkpoint westward toward Walaja, West Bank, February, 2018.
Emil Salman