The West Bank has been occupied by Israel since 1967. Israel maintains authoritative jurisdiction over the happenings in the West Bank via its military apparatus. Decisions governing the simplest aspects of Palestinian life, from traveling from one area to another to building a home, ultimately lie under the jurisdiction of the Israeli Military’s High Command in the West Bank. In October of 2009, amendments were made to military orders governing the legitimate presence of persons in Occupied Palestinian Territory. The changes, effective six months after the signing of the orders, are beginning to take effect. It is important to note that Palestinians are not in control of the Palestinian population registry. Israel maintains strict control over this database and continues to do so. It is because of this that Israeli authorities can determine the residencies of Palestinians and only through the Israelis can the Palestinian Authority issue identification documents.
Changes in Israeli Military Orders
The main changes come as amendments to the Israeli Military Order No. 329 titled “Order Regarding Prevention of Infiltration” which was signed into effect two years after the occupation began in 1969. This order defines so-called “infiltrators” as persons who “enter the Area knowingly and unlawfully having been present in the east bank of the Jordan, Syria, Egypt or Lebanon.” In 1969, prior to peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, infiltrators as defined by this order were persons entering the West Bank from enemy states. The amendment to this order, order number 1650, signed in late 2009 changes this definition to “a person who entered the Area unlawfully following the effective date, or a person who is present in the Area and does not lawfully hold a permit” (emphasis added).
The original order also defines a “resident of the Area” as a “person whose permanent residence is in the Area.” The new order eliminates this definition, apparently leaving determination of residency in the hands of military commanders.
Further, the original order states that a person that is present in the West Bank without documentation of their residency bears the burden of proving that he did not infiltrate the area. The amendment changes this language significantly and simply states that any person present in the West Bank without a document or permit is “presumed to be an infiltrator.” The amendment adds that a lawful document or permit is only one that is issued by the commander of the Israeli Military in the West bank or someone acting on his behalf.
Changes have also been made to the punishments levied against those considered so-called “infiltrators.” The amendments to the order now specify that deportation orders can be carried out as early as 72 hours from the issuance of the order and in some cases even sooner. Further, the Palestinians targeted for deportation will be held liable for the expenses of their deportation up to 7,500 NIS. Under the amendment, a military commander is permitted to seize monies held by the deportee to cover the expenses.
The section of the order on the sentencing of an alleged “infiltrator” was also modified. The old statute condemned an “infiltrator” to “imprisonment of fifteen years or a fine of 10,000 Israeli Lira or both.” The new order seems to condemn Palestinians to imprisonment regardless of their innocence. Read closely the section below:
A. The infiltrator shall be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of seven years.
B. The provisions of Subsection (A) notwithstanding, where an infiltrator has proven his entry into the area was lawful — he shall be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of three years.
A second amendment issued at the same time, Order No. 1649, establishes a committee to review deportation orders. However, hearings before this committee are for those held in custody in the process of deportation and the order stipulates that they be allowed a hearing before the committee no later than eight days from the issuance of the deportation order. The obvious problem which arises is that when deportation orders are executable in 72 hours, a Palestinian may be deported before they have a chance to have a hearing.
The collective effects of the changes made by the new orders yields an increased ambiguity that can be dangerously exploited to target Palestinians and others in the West Bank.
Implications for Palestinians Residing in the West Bank
The changes made to these orders may lead to sweeping changes in the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank. Effectively, this order makes every resident of the West Bank subject to treatment as an alleged “infiltrator” and prosecution/deportation under this order for simply being unable to produce identification on the spot or not having the ambiguously defined and potentially unattainable identification mentioned in the amendments.
Two particular Palestinian communities will face increased difficulties because of these changes: Palestinians with Gaza Residencies and Palestinians with East Jerusalem Residencies.
Palestinians from Gaza — Palestinians who are either born in Gaza or maintain permanent residence in Gaza but reside in the West Bank are now subject to prosecution/deportation under this new order. This is a clear violation of the Oslo Accord agreements which stipulated that Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank would be treated as one nation and also a violation of international law which treats the peoples of the West Bank and Gaza as one nation under a single occupation. While it is unclear exactly how many Palestinians from Gaza are currently living in the West Bank, it is certain that this number is in the tens of thousands and possibly higher. This number has also increased in recent years as the prosperity gap between the West Bank and Gaza widened due to an Israeli siege leading many Palestinians in the Gaza Strip who were able to come to the West Bank to do so. Aside from families who may have moved from Gaza to the West Bank, many married couples of whom one spouse is a resident of Gaza will face forced separation because of the change to this order. Students who have residency in Gaza but study in the West Bank are also vulnerable to prosecution/deportation under this order. While cases like this are not new, this new order will certainly expedite separation and make legal objections far more difficult, placing an insurmountable burden of proof upon Palestinians for the “crime” of living on their land.
Palestinians with Jerusalem IDs — Another group that may face difficulties because of this order are Palestinians with Jerusalem IDs. Palestinians who reside in the territory that Israel refers to as East Jerusalem number approximately 270,000. These Palestinians have Israeli-issued residency cards, which gives them a status between Palestinian Citizens of Israel and Palestinian residents of the West Bank. In an attempt to annex Jerusalem’s geography without its demography, Israel permits these Palestinians residency without citizenship. Should Palestinians with Jerusalem IDs be present in the West Bank where they may have numerous family members as well as commercial ties, they too may be treated as infiltrators under this ambiguous order. It is conceivable that Palestinians with Jerusalem IDs prosecuted under this category may eventually lose their residency rights as a result of prolonged incarceration preventing the renewal of their residency.
Implications for Foreign-Born Residents in the West Bank
Another category which may be targeted under the changes to this order are foreign-born residents of the West Bank. People in this category are most often the spouses of native-born Palestinians who reside with their families in the West Bank. A Palestinian born in Jordan, for example, who married a West Bank Palestinian will not have an Israeli-issued ID proving residency in the West Bank and will therefore be subject to prosecution/deportation under these changes.
Implications for Foreign-Born Visitors in West Bank
The change in definition of “infiltrator” in the old order now seems to allow for the deportation of persons who are foreign-born visitors in the West Bank as “infiltrators.” Citizens of foreign countries, like the United States or the United Kingdom for example, who enter into Israel without permission to be in the West Bank can be deported. While this is not expressly stated, it is the clear outcome of the sum of the policies in place. This may be part of an ongoing Israeli effort to silence dissent and crack down on international solidarity members and activists who travel to Palestinian areas to support protests and rallies often bringing with them the eyes of the outside world. The broad language in these orders basically allows the military regime that governs the occupied West Bank to arbitrarily deport or incarcerate nearly anyone present in the area.
In sum, the changes to these orders create a dangerous ambiguity with little protection for the most vulnerable under occupation: the Palestinians. Increasingly, Palestinians find themselves in the crosshairs of policies designed to force them off their land. It is important to keep in mind that in recent years, Israel’s altering of residency policy in Jerusalem has led to a dramatic spike in residency revocations. It happened in the mid-1990s and it culminated in 2008 with a record high 4,800 residency revocations of Palestinians in Jerusalem. There is little doubt that Israel has both the motive and the tendency to use these types of policies as tools for ethnic cleansing. With such ambiguity in these orders, a history of ethnic cleansing and the capacity to carry out such horrific acts, the world should be very wary of what is happening in the Israeli-occupied West Bank where Israel is charged under international law with the protection of the native population and not its endangerment. At a time when the United States and the international community have asked Israel to do more to restart peace negotiations, this is a clear and significant step in the opposite direction.
Yousef Munayyer is Executive Director of the Palestine Center. This article is Palestine Center Brief No. 195 (13 April 2010). See, also, “Forbidden Families: Family Unification and Child Registration in East Jerusalem” (B’Tselem and HaMoked, 2004); “Perpetual Limbo: Israel’s Freeze on Unification of Palestinian Families in the Occupied Territories” (B’Tselem and Hamoked, 2006); and Amira Hass, “IDF Order Will Enable Mass Deportation from West Bank” (Haaretz, 11 April 2010).