Were it not for Mohammed Abu Tir's red beard, this would perhaps be only a marginal news item: Israel is working to expel four Palestinian residents of Jerusalem affiliated with Hamas from the city of their birth.
There are those who see this expulsion as demonstrating a proud national stance, but it is already turning out to be a political boomerang. Abu Tir is under arrest, because he did not leave Jerusalem on June 19. His colleagues - Khaled Abu Arafa, formerly the Jerusalem affairs minister in Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh's government, and Ahmed Atun and Mohammed Totah, both members of the Palestinian Legislative Council on behalf of an Islamic list identified with Hamas - have moved into the Red Cross office in East Jerusalem.
Four years ago, then-interior minister Roni Bar-On (Kadima ) revoked their status as Jerusalem residents on the grounds that they had violated their minimal obligation of loyalty to the state of Israel, its citizens and its residents. After that, they were arrested, released and defined as illegals obligated to depart from "Israel's borders."
Since the end of 1995, the Interior Ministry - headed first by Haim Ramon (Labor ) and subsequently by Eliyahu Suissa (Shas ) - has pursued a policy of mass revocation of residency (with a brief hiatus under Natan Sharansky of Yisrael B'Aliyah, and even that only after an intense public struggle ). The record was set in 2008, when 4,577 men and women were stripped of their right to reside in their own city by the Interior Ministry, then headed by Meir Sheetrit (Kadima ).
Nevertheless, by revoking the residency of these three parliamentarians and one former cabinet minister, Israel has set a record of a new sort: Until now, Jerusalem residency had been revoked exclusively on the basis of administrative pretexts, such as prolonged stays outside the city.
These wicked pretexts derive from the liberty Israel has taken of applying the Entry to Israel Law - used primarily to grant residency permits to non-Jewish immigrants - to residents of occupied and annexed East Jerusalem. But the inhabitants of East Jerusalem did not decide to "come" to Israel; it is Israel that "came" to them.
The current case, however, is the first time Israel has denied Jerusalem residency on political grounds.
The United States and Europe urged Israel to let the Palestinians hold elections in 2006. The participation of an Islamic list affiliated with Hamas was a well-known condition for enabling these elections to take place, including in Jerusalem.
Yet the moment that list won a sweeping victory, Israel embarked on a campaign of punishment against its members, and especially the Jerusalemites among them, for "serving" in the Palestinian Authority.
This, in and of itself, represented a new peak of political cynicism (and another slap in the face to PA President Mahmoud Abbas ). It has been exceeded in its cynicism only by Israel's demand that the occupied evince loyalty to the occupier, lest he be banished.
With this expulsion order, Israel has managed to unite the entire Palestinian arena. The protest tent the three men set up in the courtyard of the Red Cross office has become a pilgrimage site. And Abbas has met twice with those slated for banishment.
Time will tell whether his promise to have the decree rescinded can be kept. In the meantime, however, the political movement that is his main rival is again becoming the symbol of the national struggle and of steadfastness in waging it.
Even those who, for political and cultural reasons, are sworn opponents of the Palestinian Islamic movement know that Israel is setting a precedent.
Today, people affiliated with Hamas are being expelled from Jerusalem. Tomorrow, if the PA falls apart or dares to reject Israel's dictates, it will be known Fatah activists who will be stripped of their residency due to "disloyalty to the occupation."
Following the flotilla raid, the expulsions from Sheikh Jarrah and the royal plans for Silwan, this is yet another match that Israel is tossing into the tinderbox. And it is one that even its friends will find it hard to ignore.
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