ISRAEL: Palestinians fear Israeli court ruling may set new grounds for banishment
There’s a growing worry among Palestinians that an Israeli Supreme Court decision Sunday will make it easier for Israel to deport Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem because of their participation in the Palestinian Authority.
The court upheld a move by Israeli police ordering three members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, which functions as the Palestinian Authority’s parliament, and a former member of the Palestinian Cabinet to leave the city within a month of the order.
It is believed to be the first time Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem would be stripped of their right to live in Jerusalem solely because of their political activity, experts say.
Israel first issued the orders in 2006, arguing that the men – all members of the Hamas-affiliated Change and Reform party – should give up their Israeli ID cards because they are members of a “foreign” government and therefore disloyal to Israel.
The men challenged the policy in court, which is due to hold a hearing in September.
But pending a decision, Israeli police moved recently to deport the men over the next two weeks. On Sunday, the court rejected the men’s emergency appeal to block the move.
Israeli Interior Minister spokeswoman Sabin Hadad said the decision to revoke the residency of the men was made because all four were members of the Palestinian parliament and had acquired residency in the Palestinian territory, a condition for Palestinian parliament members. “There is a decision to strip them of their residency,” she said. She declined to comment further.
As a result of the decision, hundreds of Palestinian activists from Jerusalem are worried that they may be next.
Israeli police had already informed at least two other activists, one a leading member of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party who once served as a minister in Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s government, and the other a Fatah activist of African descent, that they may be next on the list if they continue their political activity.
Though the four men currently affected are members of Hamas, which Israel considers an enemy entity, Israel’s legal argument appears to be grounded in participation in the Palestinian Authority, not membership in Hamas, so Fatah members are also worried.
Palestinians say Israel has no right to punish leaders for participation in the Palestinian Authority, which was created as a result of peace agreements with Israel and works with Israeli authorities on administration and security in the West Bank.
The Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem said that in 2008 alone, Israel revoked residency rights of over 4,500 Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem for various reasons, but none were political.
The Palestinian Authority has condemned the decision. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat warned that the revocation of the right of the four to live in Jerusalem “is hardly an isolated policy.”
The four men – lawmakers Ahmad Attoun, Muhammad Abu Tir and Muhammad Toutah and former Palestinian Authority Cabinet minister Khaled Abu Arafeh – were recently released from serving several years in an Israeli jail. They were detained with scores of other Hamas-affiliated politicians who were arrested by Israel in retaliation for the 2006 kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
In those cases, many were charged or held under Israeli military law for being members of Hamas, which Israel considers to be a terrorist organization.
Abu Arafeh said the justification for the deportation was that because the men had become members of a parliament or cabinet "of a hostile entity," they had "violated their loyalty" to Israel and therefore had lost their right to live in East Jerusalem, which Israel occupied and annexed in 1967.
"There is a huge contradiction in this order because it considers the Palestinian Authority as a hostile entity at a time they have mutual recognition and have internationally-sponsored joint agreements," he said.
Police have already confiscated the men’s Israeli-issued ID cards, which allow them free movement in and out of the city.
"We have been living like prisoners in our own homes," Attoun said. “We cannot move or leave our homes because without our identification papers, we could be arrested or harassed at any checkpoint or by any policeman on the street."
Stripping them of their ID cards would have been tolerable, he said, but "telling us to leave our homes, our families and our city where we have lived all our lives is cruel and inhuman."
-- Maher Abukhater in Jerusalem