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High Court okays revoking terrorists’ citizenship, but says some must get residency

Perpetrators who have no other citizenship must be granted all state benefits except for the right to vote, judges rule, in caveat that angers interior minister

Illustrative: Security prisoners during a visit session at Ofer Prison near Ramallah, August 20, 2008 (Moshe Shai/FLASH90)
Illustrative: Security prisoners during a visit session at Ofer Prison near Ramallah, August 20, 2008 (Moshe Shai/FLASH90)

The High Court of Justice ruled Thursday that authorities can revoke the citizenship of people who carry out terror attacks and commit other crimes that constitute a breach of trust against the State of Israel.

The ruling stated that citizens who carry out such actions can have their citizenship revoked even if they have no other citizenship, but said that the interior minister would then be obligated to provide that person with a residency permit.

The caveat effectively ensures that those impacted by the law retain all rights that a citizen holds except the right to vote, making it similar to laws in over a dozen US states where felons lose their voting rights during incarceration.

The left-wing group Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel warned that the ruling was “contrary to the principles of international law,” while right-wing ministers appeared split on the decision.

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman praised the court for “ending this absurdity” under which citizens could “commit cruel acts of terrorism [and] hold Israeli citizenship.”

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, whose office oversees citizenship and its revocation, said the Supreme Court had “confirmed the obvious” with its decision, but had adopted “an interpretation that is contrary to the language of the law” by requiring the state to grant residency status to those impacted who do not hold citizenship in another country.

Thursday’s decision was in response to a petition regarding the state’s efforts to revoke the citizenship of two Arab citizens of Israel who carried out terror attacks in the past decade.

The first is Muhammad Mafarji, who carried out a terror bombing on a Tel Aviv bus in 2012, killing 11 people and injuring many others. The second is Alaa Ziwad, who carried out a ramming and stabbing attack in 2015, injuring four people.

The scene of a bombing attack on a bus in Tel Aviv, Wednesday (photo credit: Roni Schutzer/Flash90)
The scene of the bombing attack on the bus in Tel Aviv in 2012. (Roni Schutzer/Flash90)

While the panel of judges offered a broad stamp of approval to the practice under question, it nevertheless rejected its application in the two cases brought before it, arguing that the state had committed several errors in filing the requests.

Justifying their decision, the judges wrote that revoking the citizenship of those who carry out an act that is a breach of trust against the state “presents a clear and unequivocal declaratory message that the state can renounce its most basic duty towards citizens who breach the trust of the state.”

Specifying which actions constitute a breach of trust in the state, the court listed terror attacks, actions that constitute treason or severe espionage, and acquiring citizenship with the right for permanent residency in an enemy state.

The judges recognized that “the damage to the right to citizenship caused by the settlement is indeed severe” but argued that “it cannot be separated from its circumstances.”

Explaining why it wouldn’t approve revoking the residency of someone who doesn’t have citizenship in any other country, the court argued that this goes too far and is not done in other countries.

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