Last week a nine judge panel of Israel ‘s Supreme Court ordered the state to dismantle 13 kilometers of the Security Fence already built near the Jewish West Bank settlement of Alfei Menashe, 20 miles northeast of Tel Aviv. This section of the Fence immediately south of the West Bank city of Qalqilya has created an enclave cutting five Palestinian villages off from the rest of the West Bank . It is the first time that the Court has ruled that existing segments of the Fence must be dismantled.
“Based on the factual infrastructure presented to us, the existing route of the separation fence raises questions … We were completely unconvinced that there is a decisive military-security reason for placing the route of the fence where it currently runs,” said the Supreme Court ruling handed down on September 15th .
“NIF’s strategy concerning the Fence,” explained Dorit Karlin , Associate Director of New I srael Fund (NIF) Israel with special responsibility for the Separation Fence Program, “has not been to make political proclamations but rather to focus on the harm done to the daily lives and violation of the basic human rights of the Palestinians living near the Fence. The Supreme Court has indicated that on these very issues they feel compelled to intervene.”
NIF was one of the first Israeli organizations that appreciated the humanitarian hardship caused by the Fence. Mobilizing swiftly in 2004, NIF began and continued to coordinate a campaign to change the route of the Fence and provided emergency grants to organizations involved in the struggle.
Two NIF grantees that received special grants from the Separation Fence Program were directly involved in this latest Supreme Court petition. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) was one of the petitioners along with residents of the Palestinian villages affected. Bimkom: Planners for Planning Rights, a group of architects and urban planners committed to promote social justice, prepared an expert opinion, which documented the affect of the Fence on the daily lives of the Palestinians villagers from an urban planner’s point of view. Bimkom also used government plans to prove that the route of the Fence in this region was motivated by future plans for the expansion of the West Bank settlement of Alfei Menashe rather than by Israel’s security.
Dana Alexander, Director of ACRI’s Legal Department, said that last week’s ruling resulted in three distinct achievements. “First, it will alleviate the humanitarian hardships for 1,200 Palestinian villagers,” she said, “who are needlessly separated from their fields, water sources, places of employment and schools. Most villagers have immediate relatives in neighboring towns and cannot get to visit them or attend weddings.”
Second, Alexander observed that this was the first time that the Supreme Court acknowledged that a major section of the Fence already built must be destroyed. In the previous ruling in 2004 requiring the State to move the route of 40 kilometers of Fence north west of Jerusalem , almost all that section had not yet been built.
Third, Alexander stressed that the Supreme Court had explicitly recognized that the route of the Fence was dictated by plans to expand West Bank settlements rather than Israel ‘s security needs, and tacitly rejected that rationale.
Shuli Hartman, spokesperson of Bimkom, which has done extensive research into the relationship between the route of the Fence and plans to expand West Bank settlements revealed that in at least 12 petitions about the route of the Fence currently being considered by the Supreme Court there is a clear correlation between future expansion plans of settlements and the Fence’s route.
“In these 12 places,” she insisted, “I think the Supreme Court will be compelled to order the state to reroute the Fence.”
Bimkom not only prepared a 12 page expert opinion for the Court about Alfei Menashe but also provided five detailed maps and a three dimensional model to help the justices understand the topography of the region. In several instances in their verdict the judges referred explicitly to Bimkom’s report.
“But this victory as we learned from last year’s Supreme Court ruling is only the first part of the struggle,” explained Hartman. “We must now be vigilant to ensure that the new route will be fair.”
Gains From Last Year’s Supreme Court Verdict: Hartman notes that the new route of the Fence between the West Bank Palestinian village of Bet Sorik and the Israeli Jewish city of Mevasseret Zion west of Jerusalem, in accordance with last year’s Court edict, has now been moved. Bimkom’s three dimensional model showed the Supreme Court how the village would have been completely surrounded by the Fence with a narrow opening that was so steep that no vehicle could negotiate it. The Fence will now run west of Bet Sorik and the new route will give the villagers’ access to almost all their farming land.
“The legal precedents which have been achieved,” stressed Karlin, “are serving organizations involved in an additional 40 Supreme Court petitions about the Fence. The biggest challenge concerns the route in Jerusalem because of the city’s complexity.”
“Since the start of our campaign,” she added, “the government has shortened the Fence to 550 kilometers from 720, and reduced the amount of informally annexed West Bank land from 18% to between 7 and 9%.”