The security fence:
Israel's justice system upholds Palestinian rights

Published: 12 April 2005
Briefing Number 138

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Summary: Israel’s security fence has helped bring about a dramatic reduction in the number of suicide and other attacks against Israeli civilians. But Israel is severely limited in the route it selects for the fence – and not just by international diplomacy. Israel’s authorities face a barrage of legal actions brought in its own courts by Palestinian farmers and villagers (often represented by Israeli civil rights organisations), challenging the route of the fence. This Briefing highlights some of these actions.

Critics allege that Israel’s security fence tramples on Palestinian rights. This Briefing demonstrates a more complex reality. Palestinian rights, upheld by Israel’s independent justice system, are frustrating Israel’s security fence.

Israeli High Court, June 2004: “take account of Palestinian needs”

Palestinian residents have the legal right to challenge fence construction in the Israeli courts. They have exercised this right, frequently and successfully. As a result the cost of the fence has increased, its route has been changed many times, and its completion has been delayed.

On 30 June 2004, in the first and perhaps most influential court ruling, the Israeli High Court of Justice ruled that a 30km stretch of the proposed fence should be rerouted in an area north of Jerusalem, to meet the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian population. While the court supported Israel’s right to build the security fence to protect Israeli citizens, the court also required Israel to take account of Palestinian concerns.

Rerouting or delaying the fence: further court rulings

That decision established a pattern. Since then, a series of further Israeli court rulings have upheld Palestinian rights and slowed the construction of the fence. Some of these have been ‘final’ decisions, and some have been ‘interim’ decisions, intended to give the parties more time to negotiate a rerouting of the fence. Here are some of these court decisions:-

  • On 28 October 2004 an Israeli Deputy Supreme Court Justice ordered work on the security fence to be stopped near the Palestinian village of Budrus after an Israeli civil rights group submitted documents proving that the Israeli army had underestimated the harm caused to olive trees owned by Palestinian farmers (Jerusalem Post, 29 October 2004)

  • On 5 January 2005 Israel’s Deputy Defence Minister announced in the Israeli Parliament that changes in the route of the security fence mandated by past Israeli High Court decisions would cost Israel around 100million Israeli shekels. The Minister highlighted that Israeli court decisions had already required seven changes to the route of the fence (Ha’aretz 7 January 2005)

  • On 27 January 2005 the Israeli High Court refused a petition submitted by the Israeli Army and the Israeli Defence Ministry to lift a temporary ban on fence construction along a 26-kilometre stretch of fence north-west of Jerusalem. The Court had rejected the original route proposed by the Israeli authorities because of the hardship caused to Palestinian residents (Jerusalem Post, 28 January 2005)

  • On 18 February 2005 the Israeli Defence Ministry announced that overall completion of the fence would be delayed by a year (until early 2006) because of a series of petitions to the Israeli High Court by Palestinians (Jerusalem Post, 19 February 2005)

  • On 22 February 2005 the Israeli High Court halted construction of the fence near the Israeli town of Modi’in, following complaints from three Palestinian residents of a nearby village (Jerusalem Post, 23 February 2005)

  • On 30 March 2005 the Israeli High Court agreed to hear a petition from the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (‘ACRI’) demanding that a stretch of fence near the West Bank settlement of Alfei Menashe should be dismantled altogether, because of the harm it was allegedly causing to Palestinian residents (Jerusalem Post, 31 March 2005).

There is every reason to believe that similar court actions will continue in the future. Several observations can be made:

  • Palestinians have ready access to the Israeli courts to challenge the fence. This is not a right ‘on paper’ only – but a right with real power

  • Palestinian claims have frequently been upheld, while the arguments of the Israeli army and defence establishment have frequently been rejected

  • Despite the proven effectiveness of the fence at saving lives, Israel has still applied due legal process to its continued construction, and

  • Successful Palestinian legal actions mean that Israel must bear huge extra construction costs, as well as delay in implementing a life-saving measure


Critics of Israel claim that Israel’s security fence tramples on Palestinian rights. This Briefing demonstrates a more complex reality. Palestinian rights, upheld by Israel’s justice system, are frustrating Israeli security fence. In how many countries in the world would an anti-terrorist measure be limited in this way?

Related Beyond Images Briefings

Briefing 73: The case for Israel’s security fence

Briefing 101: Israel’s security fence – criticisms of the ICJ, by the British judge

Briefing 123: “Israel should stop the fence, if terror stops” – Israel’s President