State Told to Explain Palestinian Travel Ban on West Bank Road

High Court of Justice issues order in wake of petition by rights group over travel ban on Route 443.

The High Court of Justice on Thursday ordered the state to explain why Palestinians cannot travel on the section of Route 443 that runs through the West Bank as it connects Jerusalem to Modi'in.

The court also demanded that the state explain why it has not removed roadblocks that prevent access to the road from Palestinian villages.

From September 2000, the Israel Defense Forces has prohibited the travel of Palestinians on the road, by foot or by car, despite the fact that a official or legal order never existed.

In March of this year, the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) petitioned to the High Court of Justice, in the name of the Palestinian residents who live along side the road.

The part of the road in question is completely inside the West Bank between Maccabim and Atarot roadblocks and is the only main road in the area.

The fact that the road was blocked off without a legal order was first uncovered by Haaretz. The Defense Ministry said that the road is open to Palestinians who pass the inspection at the roadblock.

But Haaretz found that most of the roads are usually closed, and from time to time a limited number of cars receive special permission to use the road.

Some of the approach roads have been blocked with boulders, others with concrete barriers, and there are those that have been closed with iron gates. A Palestinian driver who is caught on the road can expect a lengthy delay, a warning and a scare, and sometimes even the confiscation of the keys to the vehicle and also harsher sanctions.

A year ago, ACRI applied to the GOC Central Command, Yair Naveh, on behalf of the heads of the village councils of Beit Sira, Beit Likiyeh, Hirbet al-Masbah, Beit 'Ur al Tahta, Beit 'Ur al Fuqa and Tsaffeh. Yehuda noted that Highway 443 is the main approach road that links the 25,000 inhabitants of the six villages to the main city in the area, Ramallah, and serves as a link among these villages.

A month later people from the Civil Administration came to the village of Beit Sira and proposed to the council head, Ali Abu Tsafya that transit permits be granted to a number of taxi owners from the village. He insisted that the highway be opened to all of the inhabitants of the village, as had been the case in the past. The visitors promised to organize a meeting with one of the responsible senior officers. Since then no one has called and Major General Naveh has not replied to the letter.

Yehuda wrote that following the blockage of the approach to the highway, the inhabitants have had to use back roads, some of them dirt roads that pass through the villages and wind through the narrow lanes. As a result of this, trips in the area have become prolonged, dangerous and costly. Instead of a trip of a quarter of an hour in comfortable conditions on Highway 443 from the village of Beit Sira to Betunya and from there to Ramallah, the inhabitants have to wind their way along dirt roads that become impassable on winter days. The cost of the trip has more than doubled and many of the inhabitants of the villages are unable to bear the costs.

This is not a matter of preventing Palestinians from entering territories on the Israeli side of the Green Line (the pre-Six Day War border), but rather of a road that is located entirely in the area of the West Bank. At the two entrances to the territory of the state of Israel there are roadblocks that are permanently manned by soldiers (the Maccabim roadblock and the Atarot Junction roadblock).

When lands of the six villages were confiscated in the 1980s and the 1990s, it was explained to the inhabitants that widening the road was essential for the needs of the inhabitants of the entire area.

In response to the petition to the High Court of Justice concerning the confiscation of lands for purposes of paving a road in the Ramallah area, the state argued that the planning "took into account the conditions and needs of the area and not only Israel's conditions and needs." Based on that principled commitment, Justice Aharon Barak rejected the petition in September 1983, and issued a ruling in principle that the rules of international public law grant the right to a military government to infringe on property rights if a number of conditions are fulfilled. The first of these conditions: "The step is taken for the benefit of the local population."