JERUSALEM (Dec. 17)
In an unprecedented move, Israel deported 383 Palestinian extremists from the administered territories to Lebanon on Thursday, declaring them a security risk to the state.
Within moments of a go-ahead from the High Court of Justice, buses carrying the Palestinians, most of them members of the Islamic fundamentalist Hamas movement who had been rounded up in recent days, rolled toward the Lebanese border to execute an operation that was expected to draw sharp condemnation from Western governments and the United Nations.
Border police accompanied the convoy of 22 buses as it crossed into the Israeli-controlled security zone of southern Lebanon. There were indications the deportees, who had been each issued $50, food and blankets, might be spending the night there before being delivered beyond the zone, where Lebanese authorities warned they would be turned back.
The convoy had waited all day near the Israeli border town of Metulla as the High Court reviewed last-minute appeals of the expulsions filed by two human rights groups.
The expulsions, which, contrary to past practice, are for limited duration, were approved unanimously by the Cabinet on Wednesday, with only Justice Minister David Libai of Labor abstaining.
The move followed a spate of attacks on Israeli security officials by Hamas fundamentalists, including the kidnapping and brutal murder earlier this week of border policeman Nissim Toledano.
Sgt. Toledano had no right of appeal on his death, ” Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin told a meeting of his Labor Party’s Central Committee in Tel Aviv while the High Court was reviewing the expulsion order.
The court, which sat throughout the day in a dramatic special session, decided by a 5-2 majority to permit the expulsions, even though that would mean denying the deportees the right to appear in person before review boards.
In its decision, the court canceled an earlier interim injunction forbidding the Israeli army to proceed with the deportations.
But the court also issued an order requiring the government and the army to explain within 30 days why they had decided to deport the Palestinians without enabling them to appeal to review boards in the usual way.
The expulsion orders, signed by military commanders in the territories, were issued for periods ranging from nine months to two years. This differed from past practice, in which Israel has deported Palestinian territories from the territories permanently, once all appeals have been exhausted. The Labor government abolished that practice last August, in one of its first moves after taking office.
This week’s expulsion orders allow the families or lawyers of the deportees to file appeals with review boards within 60 days of the deportations. These boards have the right to reverse the deportations or shorten their duration.
Previously, those ordered deported could appeal in person to review boards and then to the High Court of Justice. This process could take many months, which clearly was the main reason why the Cabinet decided this time to circumvent it.
Attorney General Yosef Harish promised the government would explain its decision in a brief to the High Court within 30 days.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel expressed “disappointment but not surprise” at the court ruling. Attorney Joshua Shoffman said his organization hoped to be able to persuade the court, at the future hearing, that the deportation method had been illegal.
The Cabinet’s move to deport the Palestinians won widespread support across the political spectrum, with the exception of the Arab parties on the left.
Knesset member Moshe Nissim of the opposition Likud bloc probably reflected a broad consensus when he remarked that he felt “a sense of relief” over the government’s decision.
Nissim said the situation had required the Cabinet to act the way it did. Not to have done so would have been remiss in terms of the government’s national responsibility to the people.
In the Labor Party, only Knesset member Yael Dayan spoke out publicly against the Cabinet’s move. She spoke of an “atmosphere of hysteria” in the wake of the border policeman’s murder this week and suggested that the government had given in to it.
The decision by the three ministers of the left-wing Meretz bloc to support the deportations has come in for massive criticism from the party rank and file. Nevertheless, a majority of the party’s Knesset caucus backed the ministers.
Science Minister Amnon Rubinstein of Meretz said he had voted in favor of the expulsions because there was virtually no other alternative. The choice was between doing nothing and harsher measures, such as capital punishment and the demolition of terrorists’ homes.
He said the chances for peace with the Palestinians depend on a radical weakening of the Hamas movement.
Sources in Meretz said the party would now redouble its efforts to persuade the government to open a direct dialogue with the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Some commentators argue, however, that the mass deportations will make it hard, if not impossible, for the PLO to respond to such a change in attitude. That would be tantamount, they say, to allowing Israel to drive a wedge between the PLO and the Islamic fundamentalists.
A member of the Palestinian delegation to the peace talks said the conflict between Hamas and the PLO is an internal Palestinian affair in which the government of Israel should not interfere. Sameh Can’an termed the deportations “inhuman” and a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949.
Knesset Member Taleb a-Sanaa of the Arab Democratic Party said the deportations were a “death penalty” to the peace process and warned his party would cease giving its tacit support to the Labor government.
But the expulsion orders had the opposite effect on the right-wing Tsomet party, which said it would now consider joining the government coalition. A similar sentiment was expressed by National Religious Party Knesset member Zevulun Hammer.
Earlier in the day, the Israel Defense Force chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Ehud Barak, had been summoned by the High Court to explain why the deportations were necessary.
Barak described the situation as an emergency and listed a series of deadly attacks carried out by Moslem fundamentalists against both civilians and soldiers. Of the 29 soldiers killed by terror groups in the last nine years, he said, six had been murdered in the past week.
This, he said, was a completely new situation, forcing the army and security forces to take new measures. He described the government’s action as an obligation to the public, to the government and to Palestinians murdered by fellow Arabs intent on carrying out an Islamic jihad, or holy war.
In New York, American Jewish organizations issued statements saying the Israeli government’s move was understandable in light of the recent terrorist attacks, though few of them endorsed the move outright.
Typical of the statements was one from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which said, “Hamas has declared war on Israel. Israel must defend itself.”
It added: “We believe that all Americans who support the cause of peace in the Middle East and reconciliation between Arab and Jew will understand the reasons for Israel’s action.”
One of the few to back the move explicitly was Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of the Reform movement’s Union of American Hebrew Congregations, who in the past has criticized Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.
“Israel was right to act as it did — forcefully yet legally,” he said.
(Contributing to this report was JTA correspondent Hugh Orgel in Tel Aviv.)