A sweeping new Israeli military order that is due to go into effect on Tuesday could allow for the deportation of thousands of Palestinians whom Israel considers to be in the West Bank illegally – and could also affect internationals living in the West Bank.
The order, which was passed into military code six months ago but is due to go into effect on Tuesday, was discovered by the Israel-based human rights group HaMoked: the Center for the Defense of the Individual, and reported in Sunday's Haaretz newspaper. HaMoked and nine other human rights groups have banded together and appealed to Israel's Ministry of Defense to delay enforcing the order.
Under the new Israeli rules, anyone caught living in the West Bank without an Israeli permit could face expulsion within three days or be sentenced to up to seven years in prison.
The deportation policy would primarily be applied to Palestinians or foreign nationals who are residing in West Bank without a permit, according to an army statement.
"The major problem is that for the first time, Palestinians can be regarded as infiltrators in their own land," says Elad Kahana, a lawyer for HaMoked. She adds that even people who have been living in the West Bank for 20 years will be required to obtain a special permit. "The main target is people who originally came from the Gaza Strip and foreigners who came here under family reunification laws."
The greatest number of those falling into the second category, says a spokeswoman for human rights organization B'tselem, is Jordanian women who married West Bank Palestinian men. Such marriages are common, usually within extended families.
"These are the groups at risk, but the order is so general and so wide that it could be used against almost anybody caught in the West Bank," says Sarit Michaeli, the spokeswoman for B'tselem.
Violation of Oslo Accords?
In recent years, several Gaza-born Palestinians have been deported from the West Bank to Gaza. One of the most prominent of these occurred late last fall, when Berlanty Azzam, a student at Bethlehem University, was arrested at a Ramallah-area checkpoint on her way to a job interview. Having been born in Gaza, she was detained by soldiers and then deported her back to the coastal strip several months before her scheduled graduation.
The Oslo Accords declared that the West Bank and Gaza Strip should be considered as one contiguous territory. As such, many human rights groups say this behavior by Israeli forces is illegal, and seems aimed at reducing Palestinian population growth in the West Bank. The new military order, B'tselem says, is an attempt on the part of the army to make deportations easier, as well as adding the possibility of criminal charges.
"Let's say you're born in Gaza, but you came to study at Bir Zeit University [north of Ramallah] and you stayed and got married, even had kids," Michaeli says, explaining a typical predicament. "According to Israel, you're still a Gazan, and if you cross a checkpoint and a soldier notices that your ID card says Gaza, you could be arrested and deported. If you are eventually forced to leave the West Bank, you're likely to bring your family with you."
According to HaMoked, "tens of thousands of Palestinians" would live in danger of being deported either to Gaza or to Jordan. But exact numbers are difficult to obtain because the numbers of people to be considered "illegal sojourners" by the Israeli military order have not been documented.
HaMoked and nine other groups appealed to Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak Monday to delay the implementation of the order. They have not yet received a reply.