Israeli Supreme Court rules stripping of Jerusalem residency of imprisoned Palestinian parliamentarians was illegal

After 10 years of litigation by forcibly displaced Palestinians and human rights organizations, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday, 13 September, that the Israeli interior minister cannot revoke Palestinian Jerusalemite parliamentarians’ Jerusalem ID and residency for “breach of loyalty.” However, despite the ruling, the court gave a six-month delay in its implementation for the Knesset to consider new legislation to legitimize the stripping of the residency of Jerusalemite PLC members – and two of the parliamentarians in question are currently imprisoned by Israel without charge or trial under administrative detention orders.

The case was filed by Palestinian Jerusalemites Mohammed Abu Teir, Ahmed Attoun, Mohammed Totah and Khaled Abu Arafeh. Abu Teir, Attoun and Totah were elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council in January 2006 as part of the Change and Reform Bloc, while Abu Arafeh was a minister in the PA government formed through that election. In June of that year, Israeli interior minister Roni Bar-On moved to revoke their residency permits, claiming that they were in “breach of loyalty” for sitting in the PLC and association with Hamas.

The four were arrested in June 2006 and imprisoned until 2010. After their release, they were given one month to leace Jerusalem; after that period ended, Abu Teir was seized by occupation forces.  Attoun, Totah and Abu Arafeh engaged in a sit-in in the offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Jerusalem, which was invaded twice by special units to arrest them on 23 January 2012 and forcibly displace them to Ramallah.

Since that time, the four have been repeatedly arrested and imprisoned by Israeli forces, often held without charge or trial under administrative detention. Currently, Abu Teir and Attoun are among 12 PLC members imprisoned by Israel. Both are held under indefinitely-renewable administrative detention orders without charge or trial.

Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel submitted an amicus brief in the case, “emphasizing that Interior Minister Bar On’s decision gravely violates their rights, and that the law does not give the minister any legal authority to cancel permanent residency for ‘breach of trust’ or due to membership in a foreign parliament.”

While the Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 majority decision that the revocation was not legal, it also suspended the resumption of their Jerusalem residency for six months, creating time for the Knesset to change the law to allow the revocation of residency. If such a new law is not passed, the decision authorizes the four to return to their homes after six months, said lawyer Fadi al-Qawasmi.

Abu Arafeh posted on Facebook that the six-month delay indicares that the court does not intend to allow the parliamentarians to return, saying “We are likely to enter into a new spiral with the prosecution an the court..”

Adalah and ACRI issued a press release, noting their arguments:

Adalah and ACRI argued that Bar On’s decision violated the legislators’ constitutional right to continue to live in their place of residence and homeland without the threat of expulsion. The expulsion of a person from his place of permanent residence violates his constitutional rights to dignity, personal liberty and property.

Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, ACRI and Adalah stressed, never entered Israel and acquired the status of immigrants. Therefore, their residency status was never made conditional to any terms, and there is no justification for its cancellation.

The human rights organizations also stressed that the issue entails a particularly complex status, because East Jerusalem is occupied territory under international law and the East Jerusalem residents are protected civilians. Moreover, Israel itself recognized that East Jerusalem Palestinians are part of the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and consequently permitted them to vote and be elected in the PLC elections. Only after the petitioners were elected, and because the election results were not welcomed by the Israeli government, did Israel decide to cancel their residency status in severe violation of their rights.