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Behind the Headlines: Israelis Split over the Expulsions, with Some Appalled, Others Relieved

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The brutal murder of Israeli border policeman Nissim Toledano last week and the subsequent deportation of 415 Palestinians from the administered territories have sent shockwaves through the country.

The two incidents have struck a raw nerve among Israelis, who are deeply divided on the question of how to combat terrorism.

Human rights groups here have strongly condemned the expulsions, while victims of Arab terror are openly applauding the unprecedented Israeli action. Somewhere in between stand most Israelis.

Aaron Back of B’tselem, the Israeli Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, believes the expulsions are “a blatant and extremely grave violation of human rights and customary law.”

“We believe that the deportations are illegal, even according to Israel’s own reading of the Fourth Geneva Convention,” he said.

Avigdor Feldman, one of the lawyers representing the deportees, told Israel’s High Court of Justice last week that the expulsions “endanger the safety and welfare of those who have been deported.

“The deportees have been sent to the middle of nowhere. We may as well have thrown them into the sea,” he said. “You cannot just deport these people, abandon them in no man’s land in freezing temperatures and without suitable conditions, and say they are no longer our responsibility.”

That point was brought home by the brother of one of the deported Palestinians, who called the way the expulsions were carried out “cruel and unjust.”

Speaking on condition of anonymity, he related how the security forces “came to my brother’s home last week and took him away without explanation.

“It was a kidnapping,” he said. “They wouldn’t let him bring any warm clothes, and now my mother is sick to death with worry.”

“My brother’s only crime is that he goes to the mosque every Friday for prayers,” the Palestinian maintained. “He’s never been in prison. He runs a business and works from morning till night.”

But the family of the slain border policeman believes Israel’s harsh treatment of the deportees cannot compare to the cruelty visited on their loved one.

Interrupting their shiva to participate in a special High Court hearing on the expulsions Sunday, two of the Toledano brothers expressed scorn at attempts to have the deportations rescinded.

David Toledano, unshaven due to the 30-day period of mourning, said, “The whole world that condemns us doesn’t think about the fact that they are killing people here, people who are not sitting in the rain crying and who will not be able to come back. Nobody thinks about that.”

This sentiment was shared by Eli and Juliette Azulai, who, along with the Toledano family, took part in the hearing.

For the Azulais, whose 18-year-old daughter Iris was stabbed to death two years ago, “expulsion is the only answer.”

Sitting in their home in the Baka neighborhood of Jerusalem, Eli recalled Iris, the youngest of their eight children.

“She had just left the house to go to her army base when an Arab stabbed her. We heard her cry, `Mama, Mama,’ and we found her dead, lying in a pool of blood.”

“If the government had adopted a policy of deportation before this incident, our daughter would still be alive,” said Juliette, wiping tears from her eyes.

“I would like to see an even stiffer punishment,” said Eli. “The government should kill 100 terrorist leaders in response to Toledano’s death. We need to make a list of 100 terrorists who have committed crimes and who are sitting in jail enjoying themselves.”

Prison, Juliette maintained, “is a school for terrorism. It’s like summer camp. The murderers can watch TV, read the newspapers, have visits from family members.”

“People speak of peace, of a Palestinian state, but in this tiny country there is no place for such a state between us and Jordan,” said Eli heatedly.

“There is just one state, and that is the State of Israel. If the Arabs want to live here without knives and terror, they are welcome. If not, they have to go.”

“We are a broken family,” whispered Juliette, breaking down with emotion. “I still can’t believe Iris is gone. I can’t bear to move her clothes out of the closet. Even her toothbrush is in the place she left it.

“People don’t understand our pain. All the world is against deportation, but the terrorists have ruined our lives. The world has to open its eyes and see what’s happening.”

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