They Build It, We Pay

An internal Defense Ministry document reveals that the cost of correcting the separation fence route following the High Court of Justice rulings totals some NIS 700 million - about half the additional budget requested by Defense Minister Amir Peretz.

Between the huge uproar surrounding the high court's ruling over granting compensation to Palestinian civilians wounded by the Israel Defense Forces, and the small storm kicked up by the ruling on targeted assassinations, another ruling on the fence slipped by quietly.

A bench headed by retired supreme court president Aharon Barak instructed the state to dismantle a 82-centimeter-high concrete parapet bordering 41 kilometers of road in the southern Hebron Hills. As a result, the taxpayer lost more than NIS 10 million. That is only 1 percent of the cost of the policy that begun in the Sharon-Mofaz era and has continued with Olmert and Peretz.

As for the future, who knows what it holds? The writing was and still is on many Defense Ministry walls. According to a ministry document, the desire to grab another few dunams of Palestinian land - supposedly in the name of security - has cost close to NIS 700 million. The high court is likely to demand another eight to 10 kilometers of the parapet be dismantled. Every kilometer built and then destroyed costs about NIS 11 million. Along with the costs of planning an alternative route, rehabilitating destroyed land, paying salaries of officers, lawyers and witnesses who appeared before the court, and the tens of thousands of judge work hours, this totals about NIS 900 million to 1 billion. This is more than half of the additional budget Peretz is now demanding.

The latest case was not unusual. Once again the two Shauls, Colonel (res.) Shaul Arieli and retired Police Maj. Gen. Shaul Givoli, of the Council for Peace and Security, spent months running around Defense Ministry corridors. They warned everyone prepared - or not prepared - to listen that no judge would approve the barrier in the southern Hebron Hills. Their calls to heed previous court rulings reached the minister as well.

"The Council for Peace and Security experts [Arieli and Givoli] appeared before us and submitted their detailed and reasoned security opinion,'" Barak wrote in the ruling. "They believe the concrete parapet not only does not provide security for those traveling the roads, but actually enables shooting ambushes against passing vehicles. It would thwart quick chases after terrorists."

Barak added: "According to the council experts, no vehicles have been fired on in that area at all. However, there have been other types of security events, no less serious, that the parapet does not help prevent. The council members noted that the parapet was built in part along roads unsuited to vehicular traffic due to topographic reasons, and they wonder why it was built there and not somewhere else in the West Bank."

The high court accepted the two experts' opinion that a lower parapet could block vehicular traffic without stopping humans and animals, and thus would not affect "the rights to property, freedom of movement, education, health, family life and dignity," as well as not "isolating a vast area and cutting it off from the other parts of Judea and Samaria."

Barak points out that other alternatives arose during the discussion on the petition. These included metal poles or stone blocks spaced close enough to block vehicles, and were presented to all the government and security officials in charge of the fence. Now that the money has been wasted, the parapet will be dismantled, the petitioners have racked up court costs (NIS 75,000) and Peretz will get an additional budget. He will then order the parapet erected like the council experts begged him to do from the start.

Three years ago, when the fence was still in planning stages, the council presented top government and defense officials with an alternate route that was much more economical, less invasive, quicker to erect and less harmful diplomatically. The officials assumed that time, as in most cases, that the judges would bow to the magic words of "security needs." Their concern for the settlers' patently excessive interests and the exaggerated contempt for Palestinian rights resulted in a series of court rulings - the dismantling of an eight-kilometer-long segment between Baka al-Gharbiyeh and Baka al-Sharkiyeh (the defense ministry claims they intended to dismantle this stretch all along); the dismantling of the fence around the settlement of Tsofin (the state is proposing five kilometers be dismantled, while the petitioners demand 12); the dismantling of three kilometers in northern Jerusalem; the dismantling of the fence near Hirbet Jabara; following the Beit Suriq ruling, the state was forced to replan the route along some 400 kilometers (the average cost: NIS 1.5 million per kilometer); the 173-kilometer long "protrusions" around Ariel were planned three times, as was the route near Beit Iksa (12 km).

In the coming months, the high court is due to rule on some 10 petitions on the fence route around Ma'aleh Adumim and Gush Etzion. Half a year ago, in the wake of the Tsofin ruling - in which the state admitted to concealing the fact that the "security" fence route was part of the master plan to expand the settlement - Peretz announced his decision to reassess the entire fence. He promised this to the attorney general, too. As in the illegal outposts affair, all concerned are biting their nails.

The money line

Education Minister Yuli Tamir's decision to put the Green Line back into textbooks has missed one extremely important book, perhaps the most important - the budget ledger. There is good reason for this. When it comes to money, the Green Line is still in place.

Jewish children whose parents settled on the eastern side, and Arab children whom the line was supposed to turn into "westerners," enjoy special treatment. Opposite treatment, of course. The former enjoy extensive benefits, while the latter are treated like illegals. This is evident in the Education Ministry's schoolbus allocations. The 14,000 children in the settlements - 4.9 percent of all pupils in Israel - receive NIS 109 million, 17 percent of the total budget. (The ministry responded that the high cost stems from the need to fortify the buses and the large distances between the settlements).

On the western side of the Green Line, in "unified Jerusalem," some 10,000 Arab pupils - Israeli citizens for all intents and purposes - learn that in the Jewish state, law, such as the compulsory education law, is a matter of choice. Follow it if you want; if not, ignore it. An October report by the Knesset Research and Information Center states East Jerusalem lacked 1,354 classrooms last year. In 2010, the shortage is expected to reach 1,883. From 1995 to 2005, the classroom shortage grew by 290 percent. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was Jerusalem's mayor for most of that period.

At a Knesset Education Committee debate two months ago, Suheila Abu Ghosh, the Arab sector head for Jerusalem's education system, said: "The education system in East Jerusalem is in a catastrophic state ... If I had stronger words to use, I would use them ... The government must provide us with a solution."

And what has the government done? Shai Canaan, director of the Education Ministry's development authority, told the committee: "We must find a different solution here, as opposed to that for the rest of the country. We need the treasury to give us a special budget to provide land for schools."

And what has the treasury done? Yoni Regev of the Finance Ministry: "The education authorities did not approach us at all. Three or four months ago, Education Ministry officials contacted us about lands ... This is the first time the treasury has heard about this expense."

Yesterday, the High Court of Justice ruled on a petition filed by attorney Daniel Zeidman, which alleged the country was contempt of court. In the petition - filed on behalf of the Beit Hanina development authority, the Kafr Aqab residents' committee, the Ir Amim organization and Yosef Alalo, a member of the Jerusalem city council - Zeidman states that there are 33 plots of land earmarked for appropriation, which would enable the construction of 385 classrooms. He found that the land would cost a total of $38,497,000.

"This is 'merely' a question of money - money that cannot be found for some strange reason - for the Arab sector of East Jerusalem," he said.

He reminds the judges that given the public storm over the inappropriate fiscal demands falling on pupils' parents, parents in one East Jerusalem neighborhood have contributed almost 1 million shekels.

"We wonder whether if it were not for the pupils' nationality, if this would not have happened," the petitioners ask.

The high court yesterday instructed the Education Ministry director general, the municipal director general, the education system head and the Finance Ministry budgets department to submit a "concrete plan" for implementing the rights of all pupils within the Green Line, within 60 days - all pupils, regardless of religion, gender, race or nationality.