RAMALLAH, April 17 (JMCC) - Israeli officials are attempting to downplay the magnitude of military orders that went into force last week.
But Palestinians and human rights groups continue to warn that the orders might be used to expel large numbers of Palestinians from the occupied West Bank.
“We have a major reason to be concerned,” says Elad Cahana, an attorney for the Israeli human rights group, Hamoked.
“For the first time Palestinians can be legally classified as ‘infiltrators’ in their own homeland.”
Israel has said that the amendments to previous regulations are aimed solely at people overstaying their visas or who lack proper permits inside the occupied West Bank. They are actually for the benefit of Palestinians, the army says.
Avichai Adraee, an Israeli military spokesperson, denies any intent to expel large numbers of Palestinians residing in the West Bank, claiming the military’s policy has not changed.
“The new order does not give the military any powers to immediately expel people ‘legally’ residing in the West Bank. A committee was formed at the military command… that gives a person to be expelled a period of several days to file an objection,” says Adraee.
“If the committee finds convincing ‘humanitarian reasons,’ a permit of residency is granted.”
The military has amended an order from 1969 to define “infiltrator” as anyone in the West Bank who does not carry a special permit.
The original version classifies an “infiltrator” as someone from an enemy county (Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, etc.) found in the Palestinian territories without permission.
The amendments, which went into effect on April 13, significantly broaden the definition of “infiltrator.” Hamoked believes every Palestinian in the West Bank could essentially fall under its distinction.
“I think it gives the military a lot of arbitrary power,” says Cahana. “Their current statements about who this order affects only reflect policy, but policies change. The powers at their disposal do not.”
The expansiveness of the new rules challenge the very basis of peace agreements with Israel, Palestinian officials say.
Andraee calls these criticisms an “uncalled-for publicity stunt.”
WORRIED AND UNCERTAIN
Palestinians most concerned are those whose official addresses remain in Gaza or Jerusalem, but who live and work in the West Bank.
Dina is a Palestinian from Jerusalem, who lives with her husband in Ramallah because he has a West Bank identity card and is not allowed by Israel to live in Jerusalem.
“It may mean the breakup of my family,” says Dina, who asked that her real name not be used, “and not just my extended family but my immediate family. The complications have made it difficult to know where to register my own children.”
The extensive network of Israeli military checkpoints makes it easier for Israel to control who lives where in the occupied territories.
For years, the Israeli military has sought to expel Palestinians from Gaza out of the West Bank. But according to Hamoked, Israel’s courts heavily criticized attempts by the military to deport Palestinians using the original military orders.
Cahana believes this is the reason why the military has amended the order. “We think this is a response to that setback. By changing the definition they are trying to avoid the controversy, while they proceed with the same policy.”
Palestinians say their worry and suspicion comes from years of living under military occupation.
“It’s a violation of my rights as a human being,” says Dina, “not just as a Palestinian. Since forever my family has been from Jerusalem, and we have also lived in Ramallah. For me Jerusalem and Ramallah are my home -- nobody can tell me where my home is.” (Muhammed Abed Rabbo contributed to this report.)