JERUSALEM (Sep. 3)
One case before the High Court of Justice this week seemed to encapsulate Israel’s dilemma throughout the two-year-old Palestinian intifada: How to balance Israel’s security concerns with Palestinians’ human rights?
Ultimately, the court upheld the army’s policy of deporting relatives of Palestinian terrorists from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip — while imposing certain conditions.
Tuesday’s ruling came as Israeli officials, playing the juggling act that is Middle Eastern politics, alternately focused their attention on the conflict with the Palestinians and on the border with Lebanon, where Hezbollah was again heating up the situation.
Israeli officials had issued the deportation orders — along with a separate decision to destroy the homes of suicide bombers — in the hope that such actions would deter future terror attacks.
Explaining the choice facing the judges, Supreme Court President Aharon Barak wrote that in the present atmosphere of violence, “human rights cannot receive complete protection as if there were no terror, and state security cannot receive complete protection as if there were no human rights.”
In a unanimous ruling, the expanded panel of nine justices upheld army plans to deport two Palestinians from the West Bank to Gaza. The two are accused of aiding a relative who masterminded a double suicide bombing in Tel Aviv.
But the court blocked the deportation of a third Palestinian, saying there was not enough evidence that he knew of his brother’s plans to carry out a separate terror attack.
The court also ruled that the two Palestinians could return to the West Bank after two years. It referred to the army’s action against them as a “relocation” rather than a deportation, saying the Palestinian areas of the West Bank and Gaza should be regarded as a single entity.
The court also ruled that the army must prove that those slated for relocation had advance knowledge or were involved in planning the attacks.
The ruling was denounced by the Palestinian Authority and drew criticism from some Israeli quarters.
Just the same, the court’s attempt to balance security and human rights was reflected in the fact that both the state prosecutor and a lawyer for the Palestinians claimed that the court had accepted their arguments.
Human rights lawyers had told the court that the policy constituted collective punishment and violated international law.
The state had argued that the deportations, along with house demolitions, were effective measures to punish terrorist attacks — and deter future ones.
The two Palestinians slated for deportation are Intissar and Kifah Ajouri, the sister and brother of Ali Ajouri, who masterminded the July 17 double suicide bombing near Tel Aviv’s old Central Bus Station in which five people were killed. Israeli troops killed Ali Ajouri in a recent operation.
The court ruled that the two had advance knowledge of the attacks being planned by their brother, and were in fact involved in the planning.
Israeli military officials also accused Intissar Ajouri of sewing the explosives belt used by the bombers.
The court blocked the deportation of Abdel Nasser Asida, brother of a Hamas militant who coordinated two shooting attacks near the settlement of Immanuel that left 17 people dead.
Asida lent his brother a car and provided him with food and clean clothes, but the court ruled that this did not establish a connection with his brother’s terrorist activities.
Along with the issue of preventing Palestinian terror attacks, top Israeli officials had to contend with a possible renewal of tensions along the border with Lebanon.
The Security Cabinet met Monday to discuss an Aug. 29 Hezbollah attack on an army outpost along the border that left one Israeli soldier dead and two others wounded.
The Cabinet ministers decided against an immediate response, but Israeli security officials warned that the attack could signal attempts by Hezbollah to create a second front for Israel.
Following the attack, Israel asked a U.S. envoy to convey messages to Lebanon and Syria to rein in Hezbollah.
The tensions erupted amid reports that Syria has allowed 150-200 Al-Qaida operatives to settle in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon.
The group, including senior commanders, arrived from Afghanistan via Damascus and Iran, the Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported.
According to the paper, evidence gathered by intelligence services shows that before the Sept. 11 attacks Syria served as a transit point for Al-Qaida, which had an infrastructure there.
After the attacks, Syria provided information on Al-Qaida cells in other countries, but not on those in Syria.
An Israeli official confirmed the Ha’aretz report, telling The Associated Press that the information had come from Israeli and Western intelligence sources.
In another development, Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer instructed the army to have a high-ranking officer probe recent Palestinian civilian deaths during Israeli military activities.
Ben-Eliezer asked for the findings and recommendations by the end of the week in order to prevent “the recurrence of such unfortunate accidents in the future.”
Palestinians say that at least 14 people, including several children, were killed by Israeli army fire in the past week. Israeli officials confirm that eight unarmed Palestinians were killed.
The deaths have prompted concerns that the army has become trigger-happy when dealing with the Palestinians.
On Sunday, Israeli troops killed four Palestinians south of Hebron. The circumstances of the incident were disputed, with the army saying troops opened fire after spotting four suspicious figures in a Jewish-owned field previously used by terrorists to launch attacks.
Palestinians say the four were workers at a stone-cutting plant.
In another incident on Saturday, a Tanzim member and four Palestinian teen-agers were killed in an Israeli helicopter strike in the West Bank. The five were killed when Israeli helicopters fired missiles at the car of a wanted Palestinian terrorist.
The suspected terrorist who was the target of the assassination attempt got away.