Palestinians demonstrate against bulldozers, environmental groups oppose destruction of natural landscape needed for the fence’s construction.

By Nir Hasson

An unlikely hodgepodge of Palestinians, West Bank settlers, environmentalists and developers are all opposing the construction of the separation fence in an area just south of Jerusalem.

Ahmed Barghout, a Palestinian from the West Bank village of al-Walaja, yesterday counted a total of 82 olive trees that were uprooted as part of the construction efforts in the building of the separation fence near the area.

Work on the fence, which was halted until one month ago, has resumed at full pace. Bulldozers rolled onto Barghout’s land yesterday and began the process of removing olive trees.

The fence will most likely change the lives of Barghout and the other residents of al-Walaja. Aside from uprooting the trees, the barrier will separate Barghout from his land and will cut him off from his parents’ graves.

Barghout refused an offer from Israel Defense Forces officers to relocate the trees.

“I told them, ‘You destroyed it, do whatever you want. You are the occupiers, you decide everything, there is nothing for you and I to talk about. If you wanted to talk you would have come to talk, but you came to uproot.'”

Aside from local Palestinians who frequently stage spontaneous demonstrations against the bulldozers, environmental groups also expressed their opposition to what they see as the destruction of the natural landscape needed for the fence’s construction.

A group of settlers from the Gush Etzion bloc also urged the government to reconsider the fence route.

In addition, a company known as Givat Yael, which claims to own over 2,000 dunams of land in the area, is also opposed to the fence route since it would interfere with its plans to build a new Jewish neighborhood of 13,000 residential units.

The company petitioned the High Court of Justice, claiming that the state could build the fence along a route that would be more palatable with meeting its security needs, minimize the damage to Palestinians, and refrain from infringing on the contractor’s rights to build on property it owns.

As reported earlier in Haaretz, the company hired IDF Colonel (res. ) Danny Tirza, who drew the original route, to draft an alternate fence route that was included in its petition to the High Court.

In its petition, the company claims the state’s fence policy is dictated mainly by demographic considerations and not security, as it seeks to leave al-Walaja on the other side of the barrier.

In its response to the petition, the state rejected Givat Yael’s claims, arguing that the fence route was planned with the intention of preserving the Palestinian quality of life while providing greater security for Israelis.

The state argued that the alternate route would increase the danger of terrorist infiltration of Israel and the Har Gilo settlement while harming the Palestinians of al-Walaja.