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Israel's Supreme Court Orders Changes in West Bank Barrier


Israel's construction of a controversial separation barrier in the occupied West Bank has suffered a legal setback in the nation's highest court. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, Israel says the barrier is a security measure, while Palestinians describe it as a land grab.

Israel's Supreme Court has ordered the state to redraw the route of its West Bank separation barrier near the Palestinian village of Bilin. When the decision was announced, residents came out to the fence to celebrate.

"They demolished the Berlin wall, we want to demolish the Bilin wall," the residents chanted.

Palestinian residents had petitioned the Supreme Court, charging that the barrier kept them from their fields and orchards. The court rejected the state's argument that the route of the barrier, through Bilin's lands, was necessary to protect a nearby settlement from Palestinian attacks.

Israeli lawyer Michael Sfarad represented the Palestinians. He says the victory belongs to many people, referring to the weekly and often violent protests at the village, which became a symbol of resistance to the barrier. Left-wing Israelis demonstrated alongside Palestinians.

One Palestinian villager said the great achievement is that Jews and Arabs worked together to bring justice.

But many Israelis are unhappy with the Supreme Court decision. Analyst Dan Schueftan says the barrier keeps suicide bombers out of Israel, and the sooner it is built the better.

"So when you prevent the Palestinians from perpetrating suicide terrorism, and this should stop most of them, not all of them, then you are succeeding in a major way to curb terrorism," he said.

Israel began building the barrier during the height of Israeli-Palestinian violence in 2002. But legal obstacles and bureaucracy have slowed construction, and five years later, less than two-thirds of the project is complete.