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J-Post: High Court to hear Bil’in petition

By Dan Izenberg

To view original article, published by the Jerusalem Post on the 3rd August, click here

The High Court of Justice is due on Sunday to hear a petition filed recently by residents of the Palestinian village of Bil’in charging that the government and the army are in contempt of court for failing to reroute the barrier separating the village from Modi’in Illit in keeping with a High Court ruling from September 2007.

Several days after the contempt of court petition was submitted to the court, the state submitted a proposal for the new barrier route.

But in another brief filed immediately afterward, the petitioners, represented by attorney Michael Sfard, charged that the state’s proposal completely disregarded the guidelines of the High Court ruling regarding the route of the new barrier.

“The route proposed by the state is a brazen one that deliberately and grossly violates the ruling and doesn’t try to fulfill even one of the guidelines that the court set down,” Sfard said. “We do not know from where the state drew the strength to treat a High Court decision as if it were worthless dust. The state’s decision makes a laughing stock of the ruling, apparently based on the belief that the court will not extend its help to the farmers of Bil’in a second time and will not reject the route a second time.”

During the debate on the original route, Sfard and the villagers said the barrier route took into account the future expansion of Matityahu East, a new neighborhood planned for Modi’in Illit. The barrier was designed to follow the boundaries of the outline plan for the development of the new neighborhood, even though the neighborhood had not yet been built. However, by the time the matter came to court, some residential buildings had been constructed in the western part of the neighborhood. There was no detailed outline plan for the eastern part of Matityahu East and the government had no intention of building there in the near future.

Officially, the land of Matityahu East belongs to the state – though the villagers maintain it is theirs – while the land east of the Matityahu East boundary belongs to Bil’in villagers. According to the ruling handed down by Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, Deputy Supreme Court President Eliezer Rivlin and Justice Ayala Procaccia on September 4, 2007, “The state and the West Bank military commander must reconsider, in a reasonable amount of time, an alternative to the route of the separation barrier on the lands of Bil’in that will cause less injury to the villagers and leaves the cultivated lands as much as possible on the eastern side of the barrier. In this context, the respondents should consider an alternative whereby the built-up part of Matityahu East will be on the west [i.e. "Israeli"] side of the barrier, while the agricultural areas in Wadi Dolev and the areas designated for the second stage of Matityahu East will remain on the east [i.e. West Bank] side of fence.”

Nine months after that decision, the state has proposed a route that seizes private Palestinian land in the cultivated part of Wadi Dolan, then loops south and east to link back up with the original barrier route rejected by the High Court. The loop in the route returns about 350 dunams (35 hectares) of agricultural land to the villagers. Contrary to the court ruling, however, all of the unplanned part of Matityahu East remains west of the barrier in “Israeli” territory and the barrier, instead of running through state-owned land, continues to run through private Palestinian land.