The High Court of Justice dismissed a petition on Sunday for dismantling and moving portions of the security barrier westward to avoid cutting off Palestinian farmers from their land near the edge of the West Bank.
“I did not find that there was a justification for intervening in the decision of the army commander not to dismantle [the wall],” said Justice Yitzhak Amit, writing for the majority.
Palestinians from Qaffin, Akaba, and Nezlet Issa — three towns in the northern West Bank — had petitioned the court to dismantle the barrier, arguing that the effect on their livelihoods had been drastic. Farmers have to receive military permits to enter their land through a gate in the structure, which they say often prevents them from cultivating their groves and fields at all.
Israel built the West Bank security barrier in an attempt to prevent further Palestinian terror attacks during the Second Intifada. The barrier only loosely followed the West Bank’s border, however, and became the subject of ferocious controversy both inside Israel and abroad.
The Palestinian petitioners — represented by the HaMoked rights group — argued that the permit system had become an intolerable burden and severely impacted their ability to access the land. The court ruled, however, that most of the individual grievances raised by the Palestinians had since been canceled or soon would be.
“It’s a disappointing verdict. If a barrier is necessary in this area, it would be equally if not more effective on the Green Line, rather than the current route inside the West Bank which has proved devastating for these communities,” said Jessica Montell, Executive Director of HaMoked.
In meetings with Israeli military officers, the Palestinian farmers had dismissed compromise proposals and instead sought the relocation of the barrier as a whole, the justices wrote.
“The petitioners would do well if they were to respond positively to the offer to establish a regular forum that would articulate solutions to specific problems and reduce, as much as possible, the harm done,” wrote Chief Justice Esther Hayut in a concurring opinion.
The decision came amidst renewed discussion in Israel around the security barrier, after two Palestinian assailants in recent weeks entered Israel through gaps in the fence.
The army has since begun patching up holes in the fence and separately, the government approved NIS 300 million ($93 million) in funding to upgrade a 40-kilometer stretch of the barrier in the northern West Bank.
The West Bank security barrier was first suggested in the 1990s by the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, who saw it as a way to separate Israel from the Palestinians. But the project never materialized due to internal opposition.
During the Second Intifada, as Israel fought waves of suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks emanating from the West Bank, the idea was revived and kicked into high gear.
The security barrier did not come without controversy, though, as the fence sparked local demonstrations and international condemnation over its route, snaking into the West Bank, seized Palestinian fields and cut farmers off from their land.
About 85 percent of the barrier runs within the West Bank, with just 15% running along the Green Line — the pre-1967 ceasefire line that delineates Israel from the West Bank — and within Israeli territory. In total, the barrier is estimated to have cost the country some NIS 9 billion ($2.8 billion) according to the Knesset Research and Information Center.
For most of its route, the barrier consists of a chain-link fence equipped with surveillance cameras and other sensors, buffered by barbed wire and a 60-meter (200 foot) wide exclusion area. In more urban areas — including around Jerusalem and Bethlehem — the barrier is not a fence but an eight- to nine-meter (26- to 30-foot) high concrete wall.
However, in recent years Israel has been accused of turning a blind eye to gaps in the barrier that are used daily by thousands of Palestinian laborers to enter Israel illegally.
Analysts say Israel’s unspoken policy has been to allow as many Palestinian workers into Israel as possible to head off economic hardships that can lead to desperation and create terrorists.