JERUSALEM (AP) — The Supreme Court heard petitions
yesterday from two Israeli human rights groups against the West
Bank barrier, a day after the government said it would change its
route to minimize hardship for Palestinians.

Laura Wong
Israeli border police stand guard as workers put concrete pieces into place during the construction of a section of the 8-meter-tall security barrier. (AP PHOTO)

The groups argue that any construction on occupied land is
illegal and that the barrier violates human rights by disrupting
lives of thousands of Palestinians.

“It’s a matter of building a fence which breaches
the human rights of Palestinians along its path,” Avigdor
Feldman, lead lawyer for the Center for the Defense of the
Individual, said after the hearing.

Government attorney Michael Blass told the court that the
barrier’s route is still not complete and every effort will
be made to help Palestinians cut off by it.

“We are learning lessons, the whole thing is
dynamic,” he said. “We have to help them, solutions
will have to be found.”

Chief Justice Aharon Barak said the three-judge panel would rule
“as soon as possible.”

The case was heard two weeks before the International Court of
Justice in the Netherlands is to examine the barrier’s
legality. Barak didn’t say whether the decision would come
before the case in The Hague.

He said he was considering sending the matter to a larger panel,
a step usually taken for the most serious cases. Any Israeli court
decision could affect Israel’s case before the world court,
which is to issue an advisory ruling at the request of the U.N.
General Assembly.

Israel insists the barrier is necessary to keep out Palestinian
suicide bombers, who have killed hundreds in three years of
violence. Palestinians say it is a land grab aimed at preventing
them from creating a state.

The barrier is seen as part of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon’s emerging plan to separate Israelis and Palestinians.
Sharon has said he will carry out other parts of his plan,
including the removal of most Israeli settlements in the Gaza
Strip, if peace efforts fail in the coming months.

Sharon, who has come under criticism from Palestinians and
within his own government for his disengagement plan, canceled his
schedule yesterday after being diagnosed with kidney stones in the
urinary tract, his office said. Sharon, 75, was to undergo
treatment later yesterday and was expected back at work tomorrow, a
spokesman said.

Settlers in Gaza have pledged to fight a withdrawal. Yesterday,
leaders of the 7,800 Gaza settlers said they were preparing to move
500 families into the area to thwart Sharon’s plan.

Palestinians have harshly criticized the barrier, saying a
settlement must be reached through negotiations. Senior Palestinian
official Yasser Abed Rabbo said Yasser Arafat’s government is
considering declaring an independent state if Israel tries to
impose a boundary.

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