WEST BANK: Israel expels Hamas lawmaker Muhammad Abu Tir from East Jerusalem
Israeli police Wednesday expelled Hamas lawmaker and East Jerusalem resident Muhammad Abu Tir to the West Bank city of Ramallah after an Israeli district court upheld a 4-year-old decision by the Israeli minister of interior declaring that Abu Tir's presence in Jerusalem was "illegal."
Palestinians fear the expulsion may set a precedent in which Israel will expel political activists not only from the Islamist Hamas, but from any political faction, including the mainstream Fatah, which has a number of ministers and lawmakers from Jerusalem.
Hatem Abdul Qadder, a former Fatah lawmaker from Jerusalem and former minister in Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's government, expressed concern that Israel may apply the same law to any political activist in the city in an attempt to quell resistance to the Israeli occupation.
Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, described the move as "ethnic cleansing" of Palestinians from East Jerusalem in order to empty the city of its Palestinian residents while increasing the number of Jews in settlements built around the occupied section of the city.
Under a recently revised Israeli statute known as the "infiltrators law," Israel can expel any person if his or her presence is deemed illegal. Because Israel annexed East Jerusalem after its occupation in 1967, it considers the area part of Israel proper and therefore applies the law to it as well.
Police took Abu Tir to the Beitunia military checkpoint, northwest of Ramallah, and told him to walk across to Ramallah, where he was met on the West Bank side of the checkpoint by family, friends and Hamas officials.
He told reporters that his next step will be to get back to his home and family in Um Touba, an East Jerusalem neighborhood. He said his appeal against revoking his residency status was still pending before the Israeli High Court of Justice, which reviewed it in September but has not yet rendered a decision.
Abu Tir had been in prison since June, awaiting the High Court ruling on his status after the Israeli interior minister revoked his residency in the wake of his election to the Palestinian parliament in January 2006.
Before that, Abu Tir served four years in an Israeli jail after he was rounded up along with most of the Hamas lawmakers in the West Bank in the wake of the March 2006 cross-border abduction of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit near the Gaza Strip at the hands of Hamas military wing, the Izzeddin al-Qassam Brigades. Days after his release, he was re-arrested on charges of being in Jerusalem "illegally" after he had refused to leave the city and move to the West Bank.
According to Osama Saadi, Abu Tir's lawyer, the High Court has postponed a decision regarding his status for four years. A lower court, which had held him in prison since June, when police arrested him on charges of staying in East Jerusalem without permission, decided on Wednesday to release him but not before sentencing him to four months in prison should he return to Israel. The court, however, also ruled that Abu Tir's presence in the city was illegal, which prompted police to take him from prison straight to the Beitunia checkpoint and then to Ramallah.
Abu Tir is not the only one who has had his residency revoked by the minister of interior.
Two other Hamas lawmakers from Jerusalem and a third who had served as minister of Jerusalem affairs in the short-lived Hamas-run government in 2006 are facing the same fate.
The three took refuge in the Red Cross office in Jerusalem after Abu Tir's arrest. They have been there since May.
-- Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank