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Israel court stirs fierce debate with Highway 443 ruling

Last week's high court decision will force Israel's army to remove roadblocks that have sealed off about 55,000 Palestinian villagers along a stretch of Highway 443 linking Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. Rights groups call it a precedent-setting blow to a policy that some liken to South Africa's apartheid system.

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The entrance to Highway 443, which runs from the outskirts of Tel Aviv to the northern entrance of Jerusalem with a 12.5-mile stretch through the West Bank, is seen in this December 30, 2009 photo.

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An Israeli high court decision nullifying a military ban on Palestinian motorists on a Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway is stirring a debate about the army's controversial segregated road system in the West Bank.

The 2-1 decision last week will force the army to remove roadblocks that have sealed off about 55,000 Palestinian villagers along a 14-mile stretch of highway No. 443. The ruling was hailed by Israeli human rights groups as a precedent-setting blow to a policy that some liken to South Africa's apartheid system.

But it has right-wing groups and Israeli motorists from a nearby bedroom suburb upset about the potential security risks. Five Israelis were killed on the road during the first years of the recent Palestinian uprising, and some fear that lifting the ban portends new road casualties.

"Somebody called it Russian Roulette,'' says Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, director of Shurat HaDin, a counterterrorism legal center that wants the high court to reconsider the issue with a larger panel of justices. "This is a decision that will cost human life, and as such it should not hold."

Route 443 peels off to the north from the main freeway link between the country's two largest cities, and passes by the sprawling middle-class suburb of Modiin. From there, it crosses into the West Bank, offering views of Arab villages with 55,000 residents, a concrete watchtower, a Jewish settlement, and the military's separation barrier hemming in the outskirts of Ramallah.

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