Israel’s interior minister has caused a furor with plans to strip two Israeli Arabs of their citizenship for alleged involvement in terrorist activity.
In a move that has sparked debate across Israel, Eli Yishai also revealed plans to cancel the permanent residency status of a third Arab linked to terror.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon backed the move, calling Yishai’s decision “correct, considered and balanced.”
Sharon justified the move “in cases of citizens and residents linked to terror groups and terrorist activities.”
“Israel, which finds itself in a bitter battle against murderous terror, has to take measures to protect itself as a democracy,” Sharon said.
Before acting, Yishai consulted with officials in the Attorney General’s Office and State Attorney’s Office and confirmed that he was acting within the law, Israel Radio reported.
Earlier reports had said officials in the State Attorney’s Office criticized the plan.
Human rights groups planned to challenge Yishai, accusing him of trying to undercut the Israeli Arab community.
Legislator Zehava Gal-On, a member of the Meretz Party, called for an urgent meeting of the Knesset Interior Committee to rescind the interior minister’s authority to use the law in such a “stupid” manner, Army Radio reported.
Israeli Arab legislator Ahmed Tibi attributed Yishai’s move to part of “the general atmosphere of assault on the Arab public,” Ha’aretz quoted him as saying.
Tibi also said he wondered whether Yishai would take similar steps against a group of Israelis recently arrested on suspicion of selling arms to Palestinians.
Israeli law authorizes the interior minister to rescind the citizenship of someone who harms national security, but previous ministers refrained from doing so, the Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported.
Israel has signed international treaties barring moves that would leave someone without any citizenship, the paper added.
Yishai was said to have the cooperation of the Shin Bet domestic security service, which provided him with the intelligence information on which he based his decision.
Yishai sent letters recently to the three Arabs, giving them 30 days to appeal in writing before he continues with the proceedings.
All three have lived outside Israel in recent years, a fact that may strengthen Yishai’s case before the High Court of Justice.
The three are:
Nihad Abu Kishak, a citizen of Israel, is suspected of involvement in Hamas terrorism that has led to the killing and wounding of Israelis in suicide bombings. According to Israel’s population registry, he has lived in recent years in Palestinian-controlled areas and used his identity card to travel freely into Israel. He is currently being held in an Israeli jail.
Kais Hassan Kamel Obeid, also an Israeli citizen, has lived in Lebanon for the past two years. He is a Hezbollah activist who allegedly played a role in trying to lure Israeli civilians abroad in order to kidnap them.
Shadi Shurfa is a permanent resident currently being held in an Israeli jail. He was arrested in Ramallah for allegedly planning and taking part in terrorist attacks in Jerusalem during the past year. He also was allegedly in close contact with senior members of the military wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in Ramallah. He is charged with using his Israeli papers to engage in terrorist activity.
On Tuesday, Yishai defended the initiative, saying it could play an important role in deterring terrorism.
“Maybe those people who decide to act against the state will think twice if they know their citizenship is going to be stripped,” Yishai said. “If I can prevent just a single attack in which a single Jew is killed, then it is worth stripping their citizenship.”
Yishai insisted that the law gave him the authority to take such steps — and he added that he intended to use it.
Foreign Minister Shimon Peres criticized the initiative, saying it would not hold up in the High Court.
“In a law-abiding country, people should be tried and punished, but their citizenship should not be stripped,” he said. “I would be very cautious with these matters.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.