1/19/2010

443

The High Court ruling regarding Route 443 was issued the week that my daughter Shlomit was born at Hadassah- Mt. Scopus, when I was using that road several times a day shuttling between the hospital and my home in Modi’in. The ruling predictably generated a large amount of protest in the Modi’in area, as evidenced by this petition and by the fact that the mayor of Modi’in issued a press release against the decision. My initial response to these protests was that they are alarmist, and to the mayor’s reaction that it is populist, but it has taken some time to articulate exactly why that is the case.

In the first place, this is not an easy issue. I tend to agree with fellow Modi’inite Uriel Procaccia that, reluctant as we may be about it, it is hard to justify, legally and morally, the discrimination applied to keep Palestinians off the road. Every step of the decision might be defensible, but the outcome, that eminent domain was utilized to take land for a highway that was ultimately closed to the original landowners, is simply an absurd situation. Closing the highway to many due to the actions of the few, even if defensible, is certainly far from clear cut. Security is obviously a paramount value, but it is not the only value.

That leads to the next point: 443 is a very convenient highway for Modi'inites like me to get to Jerusalem. I'm there is half an hour. There is, however, an alternate route - Route 1. There is only one Israeli community - Beit Horon - for which 443 is the 'lifeline' in and out. In other words, for the overwhelming majority of Israelis, using 443 is a matter of convenience. The most inconvenienced, aside from those from Beit Horon, would be residents of the Kiryat Sefer bloc, who would have to travel through Modiin to Route 1 if 443 were inaccessible or dangerous - adding perhaps 15 to 20 minutes to their journey, depending on their destination within Jerusalem.

Thus, framing the issue as one of Israeli security vs. Palestinian convenience is somewhat disingenuous: Israelis could obviate the security concern by taking the alternate route, admittedly an inconvenience, though Palestinians along the 443 corridor are inconvenienced to a much greater degree by being denied access to 443. I am not advocating closing 443 to Israeli drivers, simply pointing out that the current framing of the issue – Israeli security vs. Palestinian rights – is disingenuous.

Throughout Judea and Samaria, Palestinians and Israelis share roads. There are a number of roads closed to Israelis, but many that are shared by Israelis and Palestinians. Very few West Bank roads are for exclusive Israeli use. Nevertheless, and despite the fact that there are occasional incidents, security is pretty good and the risk of a car accident far outweighs the risk of terrorist incident. Route 443 would not be essentially different from those roads. Access was restricted at certain times at the height of hostilities 8-9 years ago, but those restrictions eased as things calmed down. That being the case, why is 443 so touchy? Why has access not been eased yet, and why is opposition in this instance so broad?

This gets us to the crux of my observation: as opposed to nearly every other road in Judea and Samaria, with the possible exceptions of certain stretches of Route 1 and Highway 90, the Israelis who travel on 443 are by and large NOT 'settlers'. The road simply takes a 20km 'shortcut' through the West Bank. As Aluf Benn wrote last week, most Israelis prefer to keep Palestinians out of sight and out of mind, to 'disengage' from the Palestinian population. It is these people whose sentiments are expressed by the mayor of Modi’in. It is these bourgeoisie commuters, not the settlers, who are horrified at the prospect of sharing a road with Palestinians.

443 follows the path of the ancient Beit Horon Descent (or Ascent, depending which way you're going), a key access point from the coastal plain to the interior highlands of the Land of Israel. This road can thus be seen as either a flashpoint for conflict or as a symbol of endurance in a patch of rough terrain. It seems that how we view it is our choice.
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