A new military order will take effect this week, enabling the army to deport tens of thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank and prosecute them on infiltration charges, which carry long prison terms. The order, uncovered by Amira Hass in Haaretz yesterday, bears the signature of Maj. Gen. Gadi Shamni in his previous capacity as commander of the Israel Defense Forces in Judea and Samaria.

The order's vague language will allow army officers to exploit it arbitrarily to carry out mass expulsions, in accordance with military orders which were issued under unclear circumstances. The first candidates for expulsion will be people whose ID cards bear addresses in the Gaza Strip, including children born in the West Bank and Palestinians living in the West Bank who have lost their residency status for various reasons.

This would be a grave and dangerous move, unprecedented during the Israeli occupation. For years, Israel has used a heavy hand against the Palestinian population registry, trampling basic human rights such as the freedom to move one's residence within the occupied territories. Many Palestinians' lives have thus been made very difficult because they have been cut off from their previous places of residence without being able to return or legally register their new addresses.

The right of all Palestinians to choose where to live in the West Bank or Gaza marks a very low threshold for defining their human rights. Israel, which justifiably prevents Palestinians from returning to where they lived before 1948 and does not offer them fair compensation for their property (while enabling Jews to recover property from the same period, as has happened in Sheikh Jarrah), cannot expel Palestinians from the occupied territories on the basis of dubious bureaucratic claims.

Implementing this new military order is not only likely to spark a new conflagration in the territories, it is liable to give the world clear-cut proof that Israel's aim is a mass deportation of Palestinians from the West Bank. While all Jews can settle wherever they wish, in Israel or in the territories, Israel is trying to deprive the Palestinians of even the minimal right to choose where to live in the West Bank or Gaza. The prime minister and defense minister should immediately shelve this military order before the IDF feels free to begin carrying out expulsions.