Saturday, 2 Mar 2024

Israeli Parliament Votes to Deport Citizens Convicted of Terrorism

JERUSALEM — The Israeli Parliament voted Wednesday to allow the deportation and revocation of citizenship and residence permits of people jailed for terrorism who also receive financial reward for their violence.

Though the legislation does not target Palestinians by name, it permits the deportation of citizens and residents who receive money from the Palestinian Authority, the semiautonomous body that administers parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The authority provides welfare payments to thousands of Palestinians jailed by Israel, including Palestinians with Israeli residency rights.

Leaders of the far-right governing coalition, which took office late last year vowing harsher measures against Palestinians, said the new legislation was an attempt to curb a surge in attacks by Palestinian residents of Israel that have killed at least 11 Israelis since the start of the year.

Lawmakers and activists from Israel’s Palestinian minority, which forms roughly a fifth of the country’s population of 9 million, said the move was discriminatory because it effectively singled out Arab attackers. Government lawmakers freely acknowledged the move was aimed at Palestinians.

The passage of the legislation intensifies a particularly turbulent period in Israel and the occupied territories. In the West Bank, a rise in Israeli operations to arrest suspected gunmen, coupled with a rise in Palestinian violence across both the West Bank and Israel, has set off the deadliest phase of violence in nearly two decades.

A New Surge of Israeli-Palestinian Violence

A recent spasm of violence in Israel and the West Bank has stoked fears that tensions may further escalate.

Nearly 50 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank since the start of the year, many of them during Israeli operations, a toll that exceeds most annual tallies over the past 15 years.

In parallel, Israelis have been rocked by a surge in Palestinian attacks and the advent of a new far-right government that is attempting to overhaul the Israeli judicial system. That proposal has set off a bitter rift between the government’s supporters and critics, and some fear the standoff will lead to domestic political violence.

On Wednesday, government lawmakers vowed to press on with the judicial overhaul, ignoring opposition calls for its suspension, but did briefly delay another contentious piece of legislation that would allow for the reinstatement of a former government minister who was barred last month by the Supreme Court from serving in cabinet.

Amid that rancor, the law to deport convicted terrorists achieved a rare moment of consensus between government lawmakers and parts of the opposition. More than 90 lawmakers voted for the new legislation on Wednesday, including dozens of mainly right-wing opposition members who oppose the government’s approach to the judiciary but broadly support its hard-line approach to the Palestinians.

“It’s time for deterrence,” said Ofir Katz, a senior government lawmaker, according to Kan, the Israeli public broadcaster. “Terrorists who receive money from the Palestinian Authority will fly from here to Gaza and Ramallah,” he added.

Zeev Elkin, a right-wing opposition lawmaker, agreed, saying that the law would “bring an end to the twisted mechanism of encouraging terrorism.”

Arab lawmakers and activists said the law was an act of discrimination.

“This is fundamentally racist legislation,” said Ahmed Tibi, a veteran Arab member of the Israeli Parliament, in a speech to fellow lawmakers. “This law will only apply to Arabs. None of you thought of applying the law to the murderer of Rabin or the murderers of the Dawabsha family or Abu Khdeir,” Dr. Tibi added, referring to killings of Yitzhak Rabin, the former Israeli prime minister, and several Palestinians by Jewish extremists.

In a statement, Adalah, an independent watchdog that promotes the rights of Palestinians in Israel, said that the bill “explicitly and exclusively targets Palestinians as part of Israel’s entrenchment of two separate legal systems based on Jewish supremacy.”

Debating the legislation in Parliament, government lawmakers said the move would give Jewish attackers more rights than Arab ones. “In the Jewish state, I prefer Jews to disloyal Arabs,” said Hanoch Milwidsky, a government lawmaker, during a committee hearing about the legislation last month.

A previous law allowed for the revocation of an attacker’s citizenship but not deportation.

The new legislation is part of a package of hard-line measures that Israeli officials say will provide a strong deterrence to Palestinian violence.

Over the weekend, the government gave retroactive authorization to nine Israeli settlements in the West Bank that were built without government permission. The move was framed as a response to Palestinian violence and it heightened tensions between Israel and the Biden administration, which strongly criticized the move.

Israeli officials have also sought to expedite the demolition of attackers’ homes, a longstanding Israeli practice that the government says is necessary to deter future attackers, but which critics call collective punishment of their families. A government lawmaker has also introduced a bill to deport the families of attackers, but the law has yet to pass through Parliament.

Hiba Yazbek contributed reporting.

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