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Regional & National

Israel rejects challenge to West Bank barrier path

August 23rd, 2011 9:49 am by DANIEL ESTRIN

JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli Supreme Court has rejected a Palestinian village's appeal to reroute a section of Israel's West Bank separation barrier straddling the Jerusalem municipal border, saying the petitioners didn't prove the barrier would smother the village.

Residents of Walajeh village had claimed the path of the section under construction would cut them off from their farmlands, cemetery and water source. Israel says the barrier, which at multiple points dips inside the West Bank, is crucial to keep out Palestinian attackers.

Walajeh, a community of 2,000 on Jerusalem's southwest edge, is almost entirely surrounded by Jewish settlements.

The planned barrier would completely encircle the village by a fence, cutting it off from most of its open land, according to an Israeli Defense Ministry map.

Locals have demonstrated against the barrier's construction for five years, in at least one instance lying down in front of bulldozers.

But Chief Justice Dorit Beinish ruled Monday that the barrier saves Israeli lives because it "blocks terrorists from entering Jerusalem."

Although the court dismissed the request to completely reroute the barrier section, Israel agreed to adjust its path to keep the natural spring on the village's side of the barrier.

The cemetery and farmlands will remain on the other side, but Israel promised to construct an underground passageway so villagers could reach the cemetery without advance military coordination. It also promised to erect access points in the barrier for Walajeh's farmers to work their lands under the army's supervision.

Villager Mazin Qumsiyeh, a leader of the anti-barrier protests, said the access points wouldn't help because only landowners, and not farmhands, would be allowed through.

"This is the kind of thing that comes from Israeli courts," Qumsiyeh said. "They usually try to find some sort of compromise, so to speak, but the end result is that the military establishment has the final word."

Israel began constructing the barrier in 2002 at the height of Palestinian suicide bombings in Israeli cities. Since then, several Palestinian towns and villages have challenged Israel in court, arguing that the planned route of the barrier divided residents from farmlands, nearby hospitals and other institutions. Israel's Supreme Court has sometimes ruled in the Palestinians' favor.

Palestinians allege Israel is using the network of concrete walls and electronic fence unilaterally cements a border between Israel and the West Bank, grabbing West Bank land in the process.

The enclosure, once complete, is to run for 490 miles (790 kilometers) through the West Bank and east Jerusalem, territories captured by Israel yet claimed by the Palestinians for a state.

It would put 9.4 percent of the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, on the Israeli side, along with 85 percent of Israel's 500,000 settlers, according to a U.N. report.

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