The Israeli Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved Feb. 18 a draft law that would make it possible to revoke the residency status of Palestinians living in occupied East Jerusalem and Syrians living in the Golan Heights if they are found to be engaging in anti-Israel activities.
Ahmad Tibi, an Arab member of the Israeli Knesset, told Al-Monitor that the Israeli government is trying to bypass the courts. “The Israeli government didn’t like the decision of the High Court and therefore is trying to pass a law in order to bypass the court with the single aim of empowering the Interior Ministry to revoke the residency of Jerusalemites.”
Tibi said that the 13-member Arab Joint List in the Knesset will oppose what he called “this dangerous law” when it comes to a vote.
The legislative effort comes after the Israeli High Court ruled Sept. 13 against a decision by the Israeli attorney general to bar four Palestinians from their homes in Jerusalem. Three of the East Jerusalem residents — Muhammad Abu-Teir, Ahmad Attoun and Muhammad Totah — were elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council in 2006 on behalf of the pro-Hamas Change and Reform bloc, while the fourth — Khaled Abu Arafeh — was the minister for Jerusalem affairs during the short-lived Ismail Haniyeh government. The government had operated in both Ramallah and the Gaza Strip at the time.
Adalah, a Haifa-based human rights organization, along with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, which had participated in the case, defending the four Palestinians, welcomed the Israeli court’s decision at the time while criticizing that it took 10 years before a final decision was made. The four Palestinians were banished from Jerusalem once they were elected on the grounds that by being members of a hostile and illegal party they had shown lack of loyalty to the country they were residing in. On the same day, Adalah welcomed the decision of the Israeli Supreme Court that the residency revocation by the Israeli authorities was illegal. “It is not permitted to revoke the residency of East Jerusalem Palestinians in violation of the rule of law while gravely harming their constitutional rights on the vague assertion of a breach of loyalty,” a joint statement issued by Adalah and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel read.
While the Israeli court deemed that the decision to revoke the residency of the four Palestinians was illegal, it gave the Israeli government six months to correct the problem by changing the law on citizenship and entry to Israel that was used to ban them. Abu Arafeh, one of the four banned Palestinians, told Al-Monitor that according to the court ruling, he and the other three Jerusalemites should be able to return to live in their homes in East Jerusalem on March 12 when the six-month period runs out. The four have had to rent temporary homes outside of Jerusalem (mostly in Ramallah) until a final decision is reached.
Fadi Qawasmi, the lawyer of the four Palestinians, told Al-Monitor that it is not clear whether the Feb. 18 draft law will be passed by March 12, or whether it will apply retroactively. “We might still find ourselves back in court either if the government asks for an extension or if they try and apply this law retroactively against the four banished Palestinians,” he said. The law needs to pass by the Knesset plenary and then go to committee for further discussion, and then return to the plenary for a second and third hearing and a vote before it becomes law.
Three Israel-based human rights organizations have expressed concern about the new bill. Adalah, HaMoked and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel sent a joint letter to the Interior Ministry on Feb. 7 “detailing their grave concerns regarding a newly proposed bill to amend the Entry into Israel Law” — which was later passed by the governmental committee. The three human rights organizations called the draft law a violation of international humanitarian laws because it imposes upon residents “an obligation of loyalty to the occupying power, let alone to deny them permanent residency status on this basis.”
The organizations further argued that this legislation is “unconstitutional since it violates the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, and is extreme, sweeping and disproportionate.”
Qawasmi expressed his fears that the new law will contain similar wording to the existing nationality law, which gives the interior minister wide-ranging powers to deny petitioners of citizenship or residency without giving an explanation. “If they use the same language, we might have a situation where the Israeli interior minister will reject residency to whomever he wishes without the resident having any legal recourse to object,” Qawasmi said.
Tibi said the approved bill is very likely to pass, considering the current atmosphere in the Israeli Knesset. “The statements by the US president recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and saying that 'Jerusalem is no longer on the table' has whetted the appetite of Israelis to carry out further oppressive actions against Palestinians in Jerusalem,” Tibi added.
The heart of the debate is that Israel came to East Jerusalem and not the other way around. The court ruled that it is unacceptable to force a “loyalty condition” on people just to live in their homes and practice their rights. An article by The Times of Israel on Sept. 14 reported, “The court said that Palestinian parliamentarians’ residency status could not be revoked under the Entry into Israel Law, which governs the entry of non-Israeli citizens into the country, saying that the law applies only to those entering Israel and not those already in the country, like the residents of East Jerusalem.”
It is not clear what the text of the new law will be and whether the government will be able to apply it retroactively to the four Jerusalemites. But what is clear is that, if passed, this law will give Israeli officials yet another powerful tool to administratively banish Palestinians from their birthplace.