Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is excepted to forward new legislation aimed at revoking the residency permits and social benefits of East Jerusalem Arabs who engage in terrorism or other nationalistically motivated crimes, such as incitement to violence against the state. The bill is also set to target the families of such persons.
“It’s out of the question that those who commit terror against the State of Israel will also enjoy social benefits, like Bituach Leumi [Israeli social security],” Netanyahu said Saturday.
Israel annexed what had been the Jordanian-controlled East Jerusalem and Old City after 1967’s Six Day War and offered permanent residence status to the area’s inhabitants.
East Jerusalem residents generally have Israeli papers that enable them to travel freely about the city and enjoy the social benefits awarded to Israeli citizens.
The prime minister’s announcement came after Interior Minister Gilad Erdan said earlier Saturday that that he was reviewing the possibility of revoking the Israeli residencies of East Jerusalem Arabs who support terror. The move was promptly supported by Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, who said that Israel should use the threat of deportation and the revocation of residency permits and social rights as a deterrent.
“The families [of terrorists] should know that this tool includes deportation [to Gaza or the West Bank] and the revocation of residency permits,” Aharonovitch told Channel 2’s Meet the Press.
“We know from past intifadas and past experiences that this [deterrent] works,” Aharonovitch said.
The series of announcements came amid already high tensions in Jerusalem particularly, following five terror attacks in the capital in under a month, with all the perpetrators originating from East Jerusalem neighborhoods.
The recent violence in the capital has been largely attributed to tensions surrounding the Temple Mount and widespread Palestinian assertions — denied by Israel — that Israel is planning to change the status quo at the site, the holiest in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam.
Earlier this month, Netanyahu said he would “instruct the interior minister to evaluate revoking the citizenship of those who call for the destruction of the State of Israel,” in response to widespread protests and riots among the Israeli Arab community following the police killing of a 22-year-old man in the Galilee town of Kafr Kanna.
While theoretically possible, changing or introducing a law to allow for such action has been described by experts as ethically problematic and a threat to freedom of speech.
In 2011, the Knesset passed a law, proposed by Yisrael Beytenu MK David Rotem, that allows the Supreme Court to revoke the citizenship of Israelis convicted of terrorism or espionage. At the time, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman praised the move as a step toward “contending with the phenomenon of exploiting democracy in order to subvert it.”
That law, however, does not apply to people who only speak out against the state.
Yet more problematic is the prime minister’s apparent intention to transfer the authority to revoke a person’s nationality from the courts to the cabinet. A judge is meant to be an independent arbiter of the law; the interior minister is a political figure who worries chiefly about his party and his popularity.
The initiative has been described as a radical threat to freedom of expression by Debbie Gild-Hayo, director of policy advocacy at the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.
“As is known, the importance of freedom of expression lies precisely in protecting extreme and controversial expressions,” she said earlier this month.
Earlier Saturday, Erdan told attendees at a press conference in Ness Tziona that he has “instructed the staff at the Interior Ministry to assess and advise me on how my authority may be widened…to nullify the permanent residency and accompanying social rights of East Jerusalem Arabs who promote terror and incite violence.”
It was not clear what constituted promotion of terror in Erdan’s view.
The latest terror attack in Jerusalem saw the shooting and hacking to death of four men at prayer and a Druze policeman who tried to stop the killings at a synagogue in the capital’s Har Nof neighborhood on Tuesday morning. The two Palestinian terrorists, cousins Uday and Ghassan Abu Jamal from Jabel Mukaber, were shot and killed by police at the scene.
One of the cousins was employed at a grocery store near the synagogue.
Following the gruesome killings, which rattled Israel, Ashkelon mayor Itamar Shimoni announced Thursday that he would terminate construction of bomb/rocket shelters at any kindergarten where Arab workers were employed and also order the posting of armed guards outside kindergartens near building sites that employ Arab construction workers. The move drew condemnation from Israeli leaders across the political spectrum.
Netanyahu criticized Shimoni’s announcement, saying “There’s no place for discrimination against Israeli Arabs. We mustn’t generalize about an entire population because of a small minority of violent and belligerent [individuals].”
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said the move smacks of 1930s Germany.
Israel has vowed to respond forcefully to the attacks and has ordered the demolitions of the family homes of several terrorists, including the ones from Tuesday’s attack.
The government has also reportedly been considering not returning the bodies of the cousins to their families for burial, as an additional punitive measure.
Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.