Israel high court rejects appeal of West Bank mayors
Jerusalem — Israel's Supreme Court has sharply criticized the Israeli government and military occupation authorities for deporting two leading West Bank mayors last May without allowing them their legal right to appeal.
But the court refused on Aug. 19, by a 2-1 majority, to order the deportation revoked, leaving the mayors, Fahd Kawasmeh of Hebron and Muhammad Milhem of neighboring Halhul, as well as a third deportee, Sheikh Rejab Tamimi of Hebron, in exile in the Arab world.
The three men were expelled within hours of the May 2 shootings in Hebron of six Jewish settlers. None was accused of direct involvement in the killings, but the Israeli government claimed that statements by them had "created the climate" for the attack.
The repercussions from the case -- which stirred international attention as the mayors traveled around the United States and Europe over the last three months speaking to the news media and government officials -- are far from finished:
* The presiding judge, Moshe Landau, left open the possibility that the mayors -- but not the sheikh -- could appeal to a military review committee by proxy from abroad. Moreover, he recommended that they be allowed to appeal in person if they pledged in writing their intent to obey military government regulations in the West Bank and replied clearly to the anti-Israeli statements attributed to them in recent press interviews abroad.
* The narrow legal basis of the decision, strongly disputed by dissenting Judge Haim Cohen, coupled with the strong court criticism of government tactics against the deportees, is expected to stir controversy. Although the Supreme Court is highly respected in Israel for its independence, and has previously ruled against the government in suits brought by West Bank Palestinians, West Bankers already are claiming that the court's decision was politically inspired.
The court was petitioned by relatives of the three men to overrule the deportation orders because they were denied the chance to appeal their expulsion orders to a military review board. When arrested late at night, they were told falsely that they were being taken to see then defense minister Ezer-Weizman. Instead they were helicoptered to the Lebanese border.
While admitting that the government's actions were "irregular," Attorney General Gabriel Bach argued that British mandate law did not require that the appeal be allowed before deportation. He argued that the government's hasty actions were justified by security needs.
Moreover, he said that the three were not entitled to an appeal because of reported statements after their expulsion favoring the destruction of the state of Israel.
The court had harsh words for the way the expulsion was carried out. Declaring that a "military man" could not "shake off the values by which the state is run" while fulfilling his duty, it ruled that the right to appeal sho
However Judge Landau, in the majority opinion, ruled that the denial of the right of appeal did not by itself invalidate the expulsion order. Judge Cohen, in the minority, rejoined that the "violation of the law . . ." gave sufficient cause to cancel the deportation orders.
Judge Landau proposed that the "wrong" be righted by allowing the men to appeal by proxy. While accepting government arguments that all of the men had made inflammatory statements abroad, he said only Sheikh Tamimi could be said with absolute certainty to have sought the destruction of Israel. He ruled that Mr. Tamimi, who was quoted as calling for a holy war against Israel, was not entitled to an appeal.
West Bank sources, while not ruling out a proxy appeal by the mayors, consider it unlikely. During the court session, the mayors' lawyer turned down this idea with suggested by the attorney general, on the grounds that her client's physical presence was needed for a fair hearing.
Judge Landau did recommend -- while not clearly ruling -- that the men be allowed to appeal in person if they made an acceptable statement of their political positions in an affidavit.He could not make a ruling on this point, since the mayors had not sought permission to return in order to appeal their expulsion order but only the invalidation of the order.
Such a recommendation by the high court, say Israeli legal sources, would have a strong weight with the military appeals committee if the conditions were met.
However, Israeli political analysts say the Israeli government probably would rule out the return of the mayors on security grounds unless compelled by the court to readmit them.