The High Court of Justice has given the government two months to explain why it has not proposed an alternative route for the West Bank barrier in a valley near Jerusalem.
The decision, handed down by the High Court Monday, relates to an appeal by Palestinian residents of Beit Jala, who say the proposed route will separate them from their olive groves and divide the local Christian community.
The residents say that if the Defense Ministry insists on building through the middle of the Cremisan Valley, it would mean 58 families losing their land and would split the Roman Catholic Salesian order’s properties, leaving a monastery on the Israeli side and a convent on the Palestinian side.
The land in question is a valley between the sprawling settlement neighborhood of Gilo in annexed east Jerusalem, and the smaller West Bank settlement of Har Gilo, which lies just a few kilometers to the southwest.
At a hearing last week, the Council for Peace and Security, a group of high-ranking former Israeli security officials, proposed an alternative route for the barrier which it said would save most of the villagers’ land and better ensure Israel’s security needs.
On Monday, the court ordered the Defense Ministry to explain in writing “why other alternatives to the route of the fence were not examined… and why an alternative route had not been adopted.”
It also asked why four seizure orders relating to Palestinian land in the Cremisan Valley had not been cancelled.
The ministry has until April 10 to submit its response in writing.
“The court’s decision is an indication that it is not inclined to adopt the state’s position,” said a statement from Zvi Avni, legal council for the Society of St. Yves, which represents the Salesian convent and its school.
“We definitely have new hope – the answer of the court is a good sign.”
Israel began building the barrier in 2002 at the height of the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, arguing that its construction was crucial for security.
But the Palestinians see it as a land grab aimed at stealing part of their future state.