Ministers delay vote on bill to expel terrorists’ families
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Ministers delay vote on bill to expel terrorists’ families

Legislation that attorney general said violates Israeli and international law to be shelved 3 more months

Coalition Chairman David Bitan seen with Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz (R) during a Knesset committee meeting in the Knesset, on March 23, 2016 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Coalition Chairman David Bitan seen with Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz (R) during a Knesset committee meeting in the Knesset, on March 23, 2016 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday delayed by three months a scheduled vote over a proposed bill to expel the families of Palestinian terrorists, drawing criticism from an opposition MK who is co-sponsoring the legislation.

The bill, submitted to the Knesset last March by Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud), would allow the state to deport families of Palestinian attackers from the West Bank, if they were aware of their relatives’ plans, encouraged them, or aided them in some way. In the case of residents of Israel and East Jerusalem, the bill would allow the state to permanently revoke the families’ residency status.

The proposed legislation had garnered broad support from coalition Knesset members, with lawmakers from Likud, Shas, United Torah Judaism, Kulanu, Jewish Home and Yisrael Beytenu all signing on to the bill. From the opposition, Yesh Atid’s leader, Yair Lapid, and its MKs Yaakov Peri, Mick Levi and Meir Cohen were among the signatories.

Despite the widespread support for the bill, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit ruled last February that deporting the families of those who carry out attacks against Israeli citizens would contravene Israeli and international law, setting up a legal showdown with lawmakers, who went on to advance the legislation in spite of his objection.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with then-cabinet secretary and current Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, May 26, 2015. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) with then-cabinet secretary and current Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, May 26, 2015. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)

A spokesman for coalition chairman David Bitan (Likud), another of the cosignatories of the bill, told The Times of Israel Sunday that the delay from last March in bringing the proposal to a ministerial vote was due to the opposition of the attorney general. The spokesman declined to comment on Sunday’s decision to push off the vote.

There was no immediate response from the attorney general’s office on his current position on the legality of the proposed law, although he has made no indication that his views on the matter have changed.

Following the ministerial committee’s announcement that it had delayed the vote, Yesh Atid MKs who had cosigned the bill slammed the decision, with Cohen labeling it “a slap in the face to the security of the citizens of Israel” and a sign of the government’s “failing conduct” in confronting terrorism.

Yesh Atid MK Yaakov Peri, a former head of the Shin Bet (Yonatan Sindel/Flash 90)
Yesh Atid MK Yaakov Peri, a former head of the Shin Bet (Yonatan Sindel/Flash 90)

Yaakov Peri, who headed the Shin Bet domestic security agency before going into politics, echoed Cohen’s comments, saying in a statement that the postponement of the vote was “another expression of the government throwing sand in the eyes of the citizens of Israel.”

“I found it difficult to believe that the government delayed a law whose purpose is to assist the security forces and protect our citizens,” he added.

Last February, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed support for expelling families of terrorists and claimed the legal red tape preventing the move was a misinterpretation of the Geneva Convention.

“There is one thing we have not managed to do,” Netanyahu reportedly said at a Likud faction meeting. “We have not managed to bring about the deportation of terrorists’ families. We cannot do this because the courts define this as a war crime. That is how it is defined in the Geneva Conventions, etc.

“I think the intention there regarded relocation of entire populations,” he continued. “They interpret it as relocating one person or another. I am certain this was not the intent of those who legislated the conventions. But that’s how they interpret it in the world and, unfortunately, that’s how they interpret it here.”

A number of other measures used by Israel as deterrent measures, such as home demolitions, closing off the hometowns of attackers and revoking work permits, have been criticized as a form of collective punishment, while others have questioned their efficacy in preventing terror attacks and said harsher measures such as expulsion of families is needed.

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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