The quiet expulsion of Palestinians from Jerusalem

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6 min read
Jerusalem
28 December, 2022
In-depth: Salah Hammouri's deportation highlights the longstanding Israeli policy of revoking the residency rights of Palestinians in Jerusalem. Rights groups say it is a tool of forcible transfer.

If you are Palestinian and a resident of East Jerusalem, then beware. Israel's interior ministry could be watching, waiting for an opportune moment to remove you from the city or the country altogether. 

The criteria are fluid, and often trivial, with working or studying abroad sufficient justification to remove your residency rights. It can also include holding a foreign passport or expressing political views not aligned with the state.

Since 2018, Israeli authorities have legally been able to accuse Palestinians of ‘breached allegiance’ and revoke their permanent residency, without ever providing evidence or offering a chance to fight it in court. 

The policy is determined. 

"Israel is working to undermine and reduce the Palestinian presence in Jerusalem," Jessica Montell, the director of the Israeli Center for the Defence of the Individual, HaMoked, told The New Arab

"Since 1967, more than 14,643 Palestinians have had their residency status revoked by Israel"

Other groups, such as Human Rights Watch, say the policy reflects the two-tiered system that Israel applies in Jerusalem to maintain a Jewish majority in the city.

Israeli citizens in Jerusalem, nearly exclusively Israeli Jews, face no such obstacles. Furthermore, the 1950 Law of Return allows every Jewish person to automatically become a citizen after immigrating to Israel.

Salah Hammouri

The most recent high-profile example of this policy saw Salah Hammouri, a Jerusalem-born Palestinian lawyer holding French citizenship, expelled by Israel and deported to France on 18 December.

Since March this year Hammouri had been held in administrative detention, a controversial policy of imprisonment for months on end without trial or charge.

He was accused of being a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a group that Israel has labelled a terrorist organisation. He denies any link to the group.

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Amnesty International and UN officials say that unlawful deportation from the occupied Palestinian territories constitutes a “war crime”.

Ayelet Shaked, Israel's far-right interior minister and former justice minister, revoked Hammouri's permanent residency status in October 2021 for ‘breach of allegiance’ to the state based on “secret information”.

The human rights defender had originally learned of the decision a year earlier when he was summoned by Israeli police and informed of the decision by then interior minister Aryeh Deri, a founder of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party.

Salah Hammouri Getty
Salah Hammouri, a Jerusalem-born Palestinian lawyer holding French citizenship, was expelled by Israel and deported to France on 18 December. [Getty]

Hammouri had spent seven years in prison after being convicted in an alleged plot to kill prominent Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, a spiritual leader of the Shas party and Israel's Mizrahi community.

He was released in December 2011 as part of a prisoner swap between Israel and Hamas and has always maintained his innocence.

One of the lawyers representing Hammouri, Lea Tsemel, says Deri wanted to punish Hammouri over the allegations regarding Yosef.

On the day Hammouri was expelled, Shaked boasted in a tweet about her order to revoke his residency status and subsequent deportation, alongside a photo of the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. 

"Under the 1952 Entry into Israel Law, Palestinians in East Jerusalem did not obtain citizenship but were granted the status of 'permanent residency', effectively treating them as immigrants with inferior legal protections and rights"

A longstanding policy

Israel occupied East Jerusalem in June 1967 and later annexed it, unilaterally imposing its laws on the territory.

In the early days of the occupation, Israel expelled several Palestinian activists it deemed hostile. Prominent Muslim cleric Sheikh Abdel Hamid el-Sayeh is deemed to be the first Palestinian deported by Israeli authorities after being expelled to Jordan on 23 September 1967 for his speeches and lectures calling for resistance to the occupation.

Fighter and politician Dawood Husseini, activist Ibrahim Baker, and political leader and writer Kamal Naser were all subsequently deported to Jordan for organising resistance against the Israeli occupation.

Under the 1952 Entry into Israel Law, Palestinians in East Jerusalem did not obtain citizenship but were granted the status of “permanent residency”, effectively treating them as immigrants with inferior legal protections and rights.

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Palestinians would soon experience the unpredictability of such a legal designation.

Since 1967, more than 14,643 Palestinians have had their residency status revoked by Israel, according to B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the occupied territories. 

Palestinian rights group Al-Haq says that residency revocation has long been used as a tool to forcibly transfer Palestinians from East Jerusalem.

Most revocations are justified by the failure to prove a ‘centre of life’ in Jerusalem but the policy is also used as a punitive measure against Palestinians.

Mustafa al-Kharouf, 35, has first-hand experience with the policy. In 2019, he was expelled to Jordan via the Eilat-Aqaba border crossing.

Born in Algiers to a Palestinian father and an Algerian mother, he moved with his family to Jerusalem in 1999 when he 12.

The Old City of Jerusalem.
Palestinian rights group Al-Haq says that residency revocation has long been used as a tool to forcibly transfer Palestinians from East Jerusalem. [Getty]

The Israeli interior ministry had refused to grant him residency upon his arrival and when he turned 18 he was advised to apply for permanent residency status on humanitarian grounds.

After lengthy bureaucratic delays, his application was denied in 2015 on the grounds that he had a criminal record. By then, Mustafa had been working as a photojournalist and the charges against him related to him being accused of obstructing police work.

A year later he married a Palestinian woman from East Jerusalem and re-applied for residency, which was again rejected. This time the interior ministry alleged he was a member of Hamas, which he denies.

Finally, in January 2019, police raided his home in Wadi al-Joz and took him to a prison in Ramle in preparation for his deportation, as he was considered a Jordanian citizen illegally residing in Israel.

"Israel is working to undermine and reduce the Palestinian presence in Jerusalem"

Like most East Jerusalemites, Mustafa carries a temporary Jordanian travel document which does not qualify as citizenship.

He was taken to the border with Jordan and told to walk to the other side. Jordanian officials refused to admit him, and he was sent back to the Israeli side.

"Why have you returned?" a furious Israeli official kept asking Mustafa. "Did you tell them you're not a Jordanian citizen?" 

Perspectives

After waiting for six hours in no man’s land he was taken back by Israeli authorities and imprisoned for a month before being released.

To this day, the Israeli interior ministry refuses to grant him residency status, maintaining that the state has secret evidence against him.

"The problem is not me; the problem is with a system that is racist towards Palestinians of East Jerusalem," Mustafa told The New Arab

"I am afraid the feeling is always there; I keep thinking that they'll come to my home again and take me".

Ibrahim Husseini is The New Arab's correspondent based in East Jerusalem. 

Follow him on Twitter: @husseiniibrahim