Columns / Discourse / April 29, 2010

World Politics Corner: Middle East deportations?

As tumultuous as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is, the situation’s urgency escalated on April 11 of this year when Israel passed the Military Order 1650 (otherwise known as Order Regarding Prevention of Infiltration).

This order enables “the deportation of tens of thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank, or their indictment on charges carrying prison terms of up to seven years,” according to Israeli news source Ha’aretz’s article titled “IDF order will enable mass deportations from West Bank.”

The order allows Israeli military officials to deport Palestinians whose ID cards have home addresses in the Gaza Strip, people born in Gaza and their West Bank-born children, or people born in the West Bank or abroad who lost their residency status, as well as foreign-born spouses. Ha’aretz reported that, “Until [the current order 1650], Israeli civil courts have occasionally prevented the expulsion of these three groups from the West Bank. The new order, however, puts them under the sole jurisdiction of Israeli military courts.”

So far the first two deportations happened to two Palestinian men, according to Al Jazeera’s news article on April 22. “After nine years in Israeli jail, Ahmad Sabah, a 40-year-old Palestinian, was sent to Gaza, instead of being released to the West Bank where his family was waiting for him.”

Sabah was arrested in 2001 for “security offenses,” of which the exact details were not given. “Sabah’s case follows that of Saber Albayari, who was deported to Gaza after seeking medical treatment in an Israeli hospital on Wednesday. Albayari had been living in Israel for the past 15 years, but was returned to Gaza when Israeli authorities discovered that he had been born there.”

These cases followed after Ha’aretz already reported on the ambiguous language of the order itself. “Infiltrators” will be deported.

A person is presumed to be an infiltrator if he is present in the area without a document or permit which attest to his lawful presence in the area without reasonable justification.” Ha’aretz goes on to say “the instructions, however, are unclear over whether the permits referred to are those currently in force, or also refer to new permits that military commanders might issue in the future. The provisions are also unclear about the status of bearers of West Bank residency cards, and disregards the existence of the Palestinian Authority and the agreements Israel signed with it and the PLO.”

The order also allows military judges to give infiltrators a sentence of three to seven years in prison before they are deported.

Although these measures violate the Oslo Accords, deportations of Palestinians to Gaza have been practiced before. “According to a decision by the West Bank commander that was not backed by military legislation, since 2007, Palestinians with Gaza addresses must request a permit to stay in the West Bank. Since 2000, they have been defined as illegal sojourners if they have Gaza addresses, as if they were citizens of a foreign state. Many of them have been deported to Gaza, including those born in the West Bank. Currently, Palestinians need special permits to enter areas near the separation fence, even if their homes are there, and Palestinians have long been barred from the Jordan Valley without special authorization. Until 2009, East Jerusalemites needed permission to enter Area A, a territory under full PA control. Another group expected to be particularly harmed by the new rules are Palestinians who moved to the West Bank under family reunification provisions, which Israel stopped granting for several years.”

“The new order is the latest step by the Israeli government in recent years to require permits that limit the freedom of movement and residency previously conferred by Palestinian ID cards. The new regulations are particularly sweeping, allowing for criminal measures and the mass expulsion of people from their homes.” (Ha’aretz)

To be fair, one must acquiesce that the separation walls, check points and permits, although adding fuel to the flame of animosity and making lives for some people even more difficult, have decreased the level of attacks Israel has faced. But when it comes to international law, that’s beside the point.

The particularly interesting question that people seem not to report, however, is that the West Bank territory is legally recognized as belonging to the Palestinians. The Israeli occupation of the West Bank is illegal according to international law.

The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) reported “the Israeli military says that existing orders already allow for the deportation of West Bank Palestinians deemed by Israel to be there illegally.”

They also reported this is a human rights issue: “‘The orders are worded so broadly such as theoretically allowing the military to empty the West Bank of almost all its Palestinian inhabitants,’ a letter written by human rights organization HaMoked and signed by ten other groups to Defense Minister Ehud Barak said.”

Yet the main question of the sovereignty of the West Bank as being internationally recognized as Palestinian land (although settlements are growing in that area) has yet to be debated.

For some history on the West Bank (as history is seldom ever neutral from bias), I am taking the position of the international bystander; this includes the United Nations (UN) and the international community’s varying opinions excluding Israel, Palestine, the US and the Arab States.

According to the UN Charter, Article 1, all nations are allowed “self-determination” which creates Israel’s refusal to allow a Palestinian authority to truly establish itself independent of Israeli interference illegal, although that is never really said. UN Security Council Resolution 242 states the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war” even in the case of self-defense as Israel claims is its motivator.

Assuming that Israel is defending itself, its acquisition of land over the years through settlements (deemed illegal) and checkpoints or permits required to walk on Palestinian land is against international law, even if for self-defense. The settlements are considered illegal by the UN and the European Union, which can translate to Israel not having any political autonomy over the West Bank.

Now assuming Israel has no right over the West Bank, even in the case of self-defense, where does this new military order lie? A simple analogy would be: instead of the US deporting illegal Mexican immigrants into Mexico, it started deporting Mexicans on the Mexican side of the border to the border near Guatemala. It’s pure nonsense, and, from a humanitarian point of view, is despicable.

Also add in the fact that they are being deported to Gaza and you have more problems. In January 2009, Israel launched Operation Lead Cast, a 22-day offensive against Hamas in which 1,400 people (including 400 children) were killed and basic infrastructure, as well as UN refugee camps, was destroyed.

So far Gaza has still not recovered from the damage as Israel is strict about letting in aid to the strip (again another question of sovereignty). If the strip cannot provide for the residents it already possesses, then what can it do for someone like Ahmad Sabah who has no family or friends in Gaza to help him start up again?

Also, leading more Palestinians into Hamas-led Gaza does not help establish the authority of the Palestinian Authority, which is friendlier to Israel than Hamas.

Of course, as the IDF reported themselves, this is basically old news. And when dealing with the idea of Middle East peace, that farfetched dream, one must wonder if on both sides we’re too far-gone to turn back and really make change?

Email Rana at rtahir@knox.edu



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