Israel’s parliament on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a law to strip Arabs convicted in nationalistic attacks of their Israeli citizenship or residency and deport them if they have accepted stipends from the Palestinian Authority.
The decision, which could potentially affect hundreds of Palestinian citizens and residents of Israel, was condemned as racist by Arab lawmakers as well as Palestinian officials in the occupied West Bank.
The internationally recognized Palestinian Authority has long provided stipends to the families of Palestinians killed or imprisoned for attacks on Israelis.
Prisoners are widely seen as heroes in Palestinian society, and the PA considers these payments as a form of welfare to needy families. But Israel says they reward violence and serve as an incentive for others to carry out attacks.
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Roughly 4,700 Palestinians are imprisoned by Israel for alleged security offenses, according to Israeli rights group HaMoked. Of those, roughly 360 are Israeli citizens or residents of east Jerusalem, which was captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war and subsequently annexed.
Though Israel considers all of Jerusalem to be its undivided capital, its annexation of the eastern part of the city is not internationally recognized. Most Palestinians in Jerusalem have Israeli residency rights, which allow them to work and travel freely and provide access to Israeli social services, but not full citizenship, which would allow them to vote.
In Wednesday’s vote, parliament voted 94-10 in favor of the law, which gives authorities the right to strip people of their citizenship or residency and deport them to either the neighboring West Bank or Gaza Strip.
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The Palestinian Authority has limited autonomy in parts of the West Bank, where Israel wields overall control. The Gaza Strip, meanwhile, is controlled by the Hamas militant group and largely closed by an Israeli-Egyptian blockade.
“It is inconceivable that Israeli citizens and residents who have not only betrayed the state and Israeli society, but have also agreed to receive payment from the PA as wages for committing the act of terrorism and continue to benefit from it — will continue to hold Israeli citizenship or residency status,” says an explanatory note to the bill.
Jewish lawmakers across the political spectrum, including the opposition, voted in favor of the bill, while Arab lawmakers voted against it.
Arab lawmaker Ahmad Tibi said the bill was racist because it only applies to Palestinians convicted of violence.
“An Arab who commits an offense is a conditional citizen,” he said. “If a Jew commits the same offense or a more serious one, they don’t even think of revoking his citizenship.”
Kadoura Fares, the head of the Palestinian prisoners’ club, a West Bank group that represents prisoners and their families, said the law was a “very dangerous decision that aims to transfer Palestinians from their cities and villages under the pretext of getting social assistance from the PA.”
HaMoked, the Israeli rights group, said 140 Arab citizens and 211 Jerusalem residents could be affected by the law.
It said the Jerusalem residents are especially vulnerable since they have fewer legal protections to fight the order. The group also says that because east Jerusalem is considered occupied territory, transferring the population would violate international humanitarian law.
In a separate case, Israel recently deported an east Jerusalem Palestinian man to France after claiming he belonged to a banned militant group.
“It’s shameful that this law passed, and with an overwhelming majority of support from the opposition as well,” said Jessica Montell, HaMoked's executive director. “Revoking citizenship is an extreme measure — and revoking the residency of east Jerusalem Palestinians and deporting them would be a war crime.”