Israel’s attempts to build a security barrier straying inside the pre-1967 border hit a setback on 30 June, when the Israeli High Court ordered changes to its planned route to avoid encroaching on Palestinian land.

‘The route disrupts the delicate balance between the obligation of the military commander to preserve security and his obligation to provide for the needs of the local inhabitants,’ said the ruling. ‘The route that the military commander established for the security fence… injures the local inhabitants in a severe and acute way while violating their rights under humanitarian and international law.’

Israel is building the wall on the border between the West Bank and Israel in order to prevent infiltration by Palestinian suicide bombers. However, parts of the wall are projected to run several kilometres into the West Bank, dividing many Palestinian towns and villages. Critics say this is illegal under international law and tantamount to a land grab, creating facts on the ground before the start of final status negotiations.

The High Court decision affects a 30-kilometre stretch of the wall to the north and west of Jerusalem, but could set a legal precedent for future petitions on other sections.

Mohammed Dahla, a lawyer representing the Palestinians, hailed the decision as ‘courageous and very important’. However, Palestinian leaders dismissed the move as inadequate because the court also ruled that the Israeli government did have the right to build the barrier and that construction was permissible on occupied land. It is only when an alternative route exists that the wall’s projected course must be diverted, the court declared. ‘It’s a racist separation wall and therefore it should fall. There is no other alternative,’ said Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei.

The ruling came just days before the Hague-based International Court of Justice was due to announce its verdict on the wall’s legality after Arab states asked the UN court to make a ruling on the wall late last year. However, the impact of its judgement is limited by the fact that it will be non-binding, and that many countries including the US and the UK consider the court’s involvement as politically driven.

Many Israelis claim the wall is a necessary evil, and point to the fact that there has been a marked decrease in the number of attacks as potential suicide bombers find it increasingly difficult to enter Israel. However, violence within the Occupied Territories shows no sign of abating. Israeli tanks rolled into the town of Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip on 29 June in response to a rocket attack by Palestinian militants the previous day. The missile hit an Israeli nursery school, killing two civilians, including a three-year-old boy. Israeli forces flattened an empty eight-storey apartment block and shot dead an armed militant as they entered the town. And on 26 June, seven Palestinian militants were killed in an Israeli army raid on Nablus, including the leader of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, Nayef Abu Sharkh, and the West Bank commander of Islamic Jihad, Sheikh Ibrahim.