Route 443 is a major thoroughfare in the Occupied Territories, connecting Ramallah to the Palestinian villages to its west. Some 40,000 Israeli vehicles drive on it daily; for a variety of reasons including convenience, they prefer this road to Route no. 1.
Since 2002, Israel has sweepingly banned the movement of Palestinians on Route 443, thereby severely violating basic rights and disrupting the fabric of life of tens of thousands of Palestinian villagers. As such, the case of Route 443 constitutes a serious violation of the fundamental human rights of the Palestinians residents of the Occupied Territories, as well as Israel’s expropriation and confiscation of essential public resources in the Occupied Territories – in total breach of International Humanitarian Law – to make these resources available for Israelis’ exclusive use.
In response to ACRI’s petition against the closure, the High Court issued a landmark ruling in December 2009 ordering the opening of the road to Palestinians. Yet, the IDF’s plan to “open” Route 443 at the end of May 2010 contains many faults and provides limited access to Palestinians, rendering it almost meaningless.
Chronology of Events
1980s – The Israeli military administration announces expropriation of Palestinian lands to build a new road system. A group of Palestinian land-owners petitioned the High Court of Justice against the pending expropriation, claiming the new roads (Ben Shemen-Atarot and Ramallah-Jerusalem) will be built to serve Israelis, not the residents of the occupied territory. Hence, it was argued, the Military Commander’s decision to expropriate the lands was outside of his authority and in breach of international law. The army, for its part, claimed in Court that the aim of the planned roads is to benefit the local population, and the fact that they would serve Israelis as well was immaterial. In a precedent-setting ruling, the High Court rules that if indeed the expropriation is meant to serve Israeli interests, it is unlawful. However, taking into account the respondents’ (the IDF) position, the court rejected the petition.
Late 1980s – Route 443 (Ben Shemen-Atarot) is built. For Palestinians, the road was the sole route to Ramallah and between the villages.
2000-2002- In the wake of the second Intifada in 2000, Palestinians were increasingly banned by the IDF from using Route 443, following several terror attacks on Israeli vehicles. Despite the lack of an official order or announcement of the closure, physical blockades were erected at access points to Palestinian villages, effectively preventing residents’ movement on the road. IDF commander of the Ramallah region, Colonel Gal Hirsch, claimed: “‘I made Route 443 an Israelis-only road…I ordered all the exits serving Palestinians to be barricaded.”
Since 2002, the ban on Palestinian traffic on Route 443 has been absolute.
23 May 2006: ACRI appealed to the IDF, on behalf of six Palestinian villages adjacent to Route 443, demanding removal of the roadblocks and the cancellation of the unlawful directives prohibiting Palestinian movement on the highway.
18 October 2006: In its response, the Department of the IDF’s Legal Advisor denied that the IDF prevented the movement of Palestinians on the road. Since this statement did not correspond with the situation on the ground, ACRI appealed to the IDF again on 23 October 2006, and requested a detailed account of those intersections where Palestinians could access Route 443.
7 March 2007: ACRI petitioned High Court of Justice on behalf of six villages (Beit Sira, Saffa, Beit Liqya, Kharbata al-Misbah, Beit Ur at-Tahta, and Beit Ur al-Fauka), which have been severely affected by the travel ban, urging the Court to order the removal of the roadblocks and to open the road to Palestinians residing in the area. The petition claimed that access to the road is vital for the local villagers, and that their access to Ramallah – which is an essential centre for commercial and social services – depends on it. Moreover, because Route 443 runs through agricultural lands, the ban prevents villagers from accessing their lands on the sides of the road. This state of affairs has inflicted critical damage on the local economy, commerce and daily fabric of life. In the meantime, local Palestinians must travel on dangerous, long roads to reach Ramallah and neighboring villages. The petition also maintained that the ban imposed on the Palestinians, which bars them from using a road situated in occupied territory (which was constructed on their lands under the claim that it was designed to serve their needs), constitutes an unlawful infringement of basic human rights, and contravenes the duties of the military commander as stipulated in international law as well as in the High Court ruling on 443 from the 1980s. In addition, restriction on movement on the basis of a person’s national or ethnic origin amounts to illegal discrimination.
28 August 2007: The IDF commander in the West Bank signed a written order officially banning Palestinian vehicles from using the road, following a court hearing wherein the High Court of Justice issued an injunction ordering the respondents to explain their prohibition on Palestinians’ movement on the road.
2 September 2007: The respondents filed a response to the petition, claiming that security considerations are at the basis of the travel ban, in light of a string of attacks on Israelis using the road. The respondents claimed that no other measures could provide a sufficient degree of security and that alternative “fabric of life” roads would be built to minimize the damage caused by the ban.
5 March 2008: The High Court held a hearing on ACRI’s petition.
12 March 2008: The petitioners received a Court injunction dated 5 March stating that the respondents should provide within 6 months an account of the progress in building the alternative “fabric of life” road system.
March 2008: ACRI responded harshly to the Court’s injunction in a series of public statements and actions, claiming that the Court’s approval of the construction of a separate road for Palestinians, while sustaining the illegal prohibition on Palestinian traffic on Route 443, amounted to the High Court’s implicit endorsement of segregation in the West Bank, setting a dangerous precedent for Israel’s conduct in the West Bank and in the context of the Occupation. Not only is this illegal and immoral, ACRI claimed, but it amounted to a significant blow to Israel’s democracy, the rule of law, and the role of the High Court in protecting these values. A series of high-profile articles in major media in Israel and abroad and statements by leading figures on the closure and its ramifications for Israel followed.
15 May 2008: With no signs that the High Court would issue a ruling on the petition, which had since attained notoriety in Israel and abroad, ACRI submitted a “Request for a Ruling”. On May 29, the Court declined to issue such a ruling.
29 December 2009: The High Court of Justice accepted ACRI’s petition against the closure of Route 443, ordering the State to open the road to Palestinian traffic within five months. The Court’s decision to open the road was initially perceived as a victory for the rule of law and human rights. However, the ruling contained an untenable gap between lofty principles and concrete instructions for the military. While the justices underscored the need to protect the human rights of the Palestinians, they chose not to state which roadblocks must be removed, or which steps the army must take to fulfil its legal obligations to the local population. Moreover, the court did not call for the opening of the Beituniya crossing, which connects the Palestinian villages to the metropolitan center of Ramallah.
December 2009-May 2010: The opening of Route 443 to Palestinian traffic becomes the subject of fierce debate in the Knesset and in the media. In a Knesset hearing on the opening in January 2010, a Transportation Ministry official claims that Route 1 (connecting Tel Aviv and Jerusalem) would “collapse” if Route 443 were opened to Palestinian traffic, corroborating suspicions that the main issues at stake are the convenience and transportation considerations of Israel and Israelis.
In the meantime, Palestinians are still prohibited from travelling on Route 443; the “fabric of life” roads prove dangerous and fall into disrepair. For the past three months, the “fabric of life” road heading out of Ramallah has been blocked to traffic.
April 2010: The IDF announced its plan for the opening of Route 443: two entrance and four exit points as well as continued blocked access to Ramallah through Beituniya and the erection of an additional checkpoint at Mahane Ofer.
25 April 2010: ACRI submits an urgent appeal to the deputy Attorney-General, Mike Balas, claiming that the plan only provides the illusion of an opening and does not coincide with the central tenets of the High Court ruling and the obligations of the military commander towards the local population. ACRI further urged the deputy Attorney-General to order the IDF to open the road fully to Palestinians (all entry and exit points as prior to 2000) including access to Ramallah.
9 May 2010: The Deputy Attorney-General responds to ACRI’s appeal that the IDF’s planned implementation will proceed as planned.
May 2010: Route 443 is scheduled to “open” according to the IDF’s plan.