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New Bil’in barrier route reduces Modi’in Illit expansion

Dan Izenberg | Jerusalem Post

26 April 2009

It took the death of a Palestinian at Bil’in last week and the threat of another contempt of court petition to the High Court of Justice, but the state has finally come up with a new proposal for the route of the West Bank security barrier that apparently complies with the original court decision of 19 months ago, attorney Michael Sfard said on Sunday.

Last week, the state submitted a new proposal to the High Court to change the original route of the fence in the area of Modi’in Illit, which was proposed by the Defense Ministry and rejected by the court on September 4, 2007.

Now, Sfard told The Jerusalem Post, the ministry has come up with a new route that gives Bil’in villagers back 700 of the 1,700 dunams, or 170 hectares, that were set to be located on the “Israeli side” of the barrier in the original proposal.

Israel has said the route of the barrier was determined by security considerations only. But in the case of Bil’in, as was true regarding several other sections, the route was originally determined to allow for the construction of a new neighborhood, called East Matityahu, in the urban haredi settlement of Modi’in Illit.

According to the original plan, 3,000 housing units were to be built in East Matityahu in two stages.

According to Sfard, as a result of the state’s proposal to return 700 dunams of land to Bil’in, fewer than 2,000 units will be built.

On September 5, 2005, the head of the Bil’in village council, Ahmed Yasin, petitioned the High Court against the route of the security barrier. Sfard, who represented him, claimed that the state had designed the route in order to expand Modi’in Illit, taking away farmland belonging to the village and to individual villagers.

In its ruling two years later, the court upheld the petition and ordered the state to prepare a new route in accordance with a series of specific constraints.

One condition was that the new route leave the second stage of East Matityahu on the “West Bank side” of the barrier. Another condition was that the barrier itself be established as much as possible on state-owned rather than Palestinian-owned land.

It took nine months for the state to come up with a new proposal. When it finally did, it ignored key conditions established by the court in its original ruling. Above all, it left stage two of Matityahu East on the “Israeli side” of the barrier.

On December 15, 2008, the court rejected the proposal and ordered the state to come up with a new one that complied with its original ruling, “without further delay.”

Nevertheless, four more months went by without a response by the state. Sfard told the Post that after the killing of Palestinian demonstrator Bassam Ibrahim Abu Rahma, from Bil’in, during a protest against the barrier on April 17, he sent a letter to attorney Avi Licht of the State Attorney’s Office, warning that he would file another contempt of court petition unless the state submitted a new proposal within two days. (Abu Rahma, 30, was killed in a confrontation with border policemen.)

The state hurried to submit the proposal. Sfard said that although the Bil’in villagers were still angry over the loss of 1,000 or more dunams that remain on the “Israeli side” of the barrier, it looks like the court will approve the state’s new proposal.