Israel’s expulsion of Jerusalem lawmakers overturned for now

Muhammad Abu Tir, one of four Palestinian lawmakers expelled from Jerusalem, stands outside his home in the city in 2010, following his release from an Israeli prison.

Mahfuz Abu Turk APA images

Human rights groups said that a ruling this week by Israel’s high court confirms that the state cannot revoke the residency of Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem on the vague grounds of “breach of loyalty.”

After a 10-year legal battle, the high court decided that Israel’s interior minister did not have the authority to expel four Palestinian lawmakers from the city.

Legal advocacy group Adalah and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel said that the court’s decision to accept the lawmakers’ appeal affirms that the expulsion was done “in violation of the rule of law while gravely harming their constitutional rights.”

The groups added: “It is unfortunate that this ruling was made only after more than a decade, during which time the petitioners’ rights were brutally violated.”

In 2006, Israel’s interior minister revoked the permanent residency and identity cards of the four lawmakers.

The men – Ahmad Attoun, Muhammad Totah, Muhammad Abu Tir and Khaled Abu Arafeh – had been elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council in 2006 after running on a list affiliated with Hamas.

Abu Arafeh was appointed as a minister in the new Palestinian Authority government.

The four were arrested months after the elections. Israel gave them an ultimatum to resign from their political offices or be stripped of their status.

At different periods the lawmakers took refuge and held sit-ins at the Red Cross headquarters in East Jerusalem to avoid expulsion by Israeli forces.

Israel ultimately expelled them from Jerusalem starting in 2011.

While winning their appeal in the high court, this is not likely to be the end of the lawmakers’ ordeal.

The 6-3 ruling only stays their expulsion for six months. During this period, Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, can change the law to allow the revocation of residency.

Legal constraints have in any case done little to protect Palestinian Jerusalemites from expulsion.

Quest to solidify Jewish majority

When Israel occupied East Jerusalem in June 1967, formally annexing it in 1980, it decreed that Palestinians living there were “permanent residents,” as if they had immigrated to Israel, rather than Israel violently imposing itself on them.

This residency status is vulnerable to revocation and requires Palestinian Jerusalemites to fulfill certain conditions to maintain it that are never applied to Jews.

Under international law, Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem is null and void.

Almost 15,000 Palestinians from occupied East Jerusalem have had their residency revoked since 1967 – usually because they might have temporarily moved elsewhere to study, work, be closer to family or get married.

Human Rights Watch has described this policy as part of Israel’s “quest to solidify a Jewish majority in Jerusalem.”

Israel also regularly bans Palestinians from the city on grounds of “security.”

The four lawmakers were the first cases of Palestinians being expelled for a supposed “breach of loyalty” to the occupation regime.

Last year, the Israeli interior minister revoked the residency of four young Palestinians allegedly involved in attacks on Israelis, citing “breach of allegiance to the State of Israel.”

That order is being appealed.

It followed an October 2015 government decree to use the measure against Palestinians accused of attacking Israelis and against the suspects’ families.

War crime

Human Rights Watch noted last month that Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem are protected by the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Regardless of Israel’s motive, the group said, “Deportation or forced transfers of any part of the population of an occupied territory could amount to war crimes under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.”

This would mean that even if Israel blesses such expulsions under its own law, they remain violations of international law.

In an unprecedented step last month, Israel revoked the citizenship of 23-year-old Alaa Zayoud for “breach of loyalty.”

Zayoud, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, had been sentenced to 25 years in prison for four counts of attempted murder after driving a car into a soldier and then stabbing three civilians in October 2015, causing them light to moderate injuries.

Like punitive home demolitions, revocation of residency or citizenship is a sanction Israel has reserved solely for Palestinians and has never applied to Jews.

“They want us to be loyal to the occupation,” Muhammad Totah, one of the expelled Jerusalem lawmakers, told The Electronic Intifada in 2010.

“They want us to leave at any price.”