Friday, March 28, 2008

Barred From Main Road, Palestinians Fear Two-Tiered System

Go to New York Times original
Beit Sira, West Bank - Ali Abu Safia, mayor of this Palestinian village, steers his car up one potholed road, then another, finding each exit blocked by huge concrete chunks placed there by the Israeli Army. On a sleek highway 100 yards away, Israeli cars whiz by.

"They took our land to build this road, and now we can't even use it," Mr. Abu Safia says bitterly, pointing to the highway with one hand as he drives with the other. "Israel says it is because of security. But it's politics."

The object of Mr. Abu Safia's contempt - Highway 443, a major access road to Jerusalem - has taken on special significance in the grinding Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For the first time, the Supreme Court, albeit in an interim decision, has accepted the idea of separate roads for Palestinians in the occupied areas.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel told the Supreme Court that what was happening on the highway could be the onset of legal apartheid in the West Bank - a charge that makes many Israelis recoil.

Built largely on private Palestinian land, the road was first challenged in the Supreme Court in the early 1980s when the justices, in a landmark ruling, permitted it to be built because the army said its primary function was to serve the local Palestinians, not Israeli commuters. In recent years, in the wake of stone-throwing and several drive-by shootings, Israel has blocked Palestinians' access to the road.

This month, as some 40,000 Israeli cars - and almost no Palestinians - use it daily, the court handed down its decision, one that has engendered much legal and political hand-wringing.

The one-paragraph decision calls on the army to give a progress report in six months on its efforts to build separate roads and take other steps for the Palestinians to compensate them for being barred from Highway 443. It is the acceptance of the idea of separate road systems that has engendered commentary, although legal experts say there is a slight chance that the court could reconsider its approach when it next examines the issue.


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