Mohammed Abu Tir
Mohammed Abu Tir. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met in his Ramallah office on Wednesday and on Friday with two Islamist members of the Palestinian Legislative Council and a former Hamas cabinet minister. This rare meeting was not related to the reconciliation efforts between Fatah and Hamas. It was held thanks to the Israeli Interior Ministry and the Israel Police. On June 29, 2006 then-interior minister Roni Bar-On revoked the residency status of four Jerusalem residents - PLC members Mohammed Abu Tir, 60; Mohammed Totah, 41; Ahmed Atoun, 42; and Khaled Abu Arafa, 49, who served for just three months as the minister for Jerusalem affairs in the government of Ismail Haniyeh before being arrested.

In the past four years all four were jailed in Israel for between two and a half years to nearly four years. Over the past several weeks all four were summoned by the Jerusalem police and informed in writing that they were "permitted to stay in Israel" for one month from the date of the respective letter. Abu Tir was ordered to leave by June 19. The other three, including Abu Arafa, who was released from prison in September 2008, are supposed to leave by the beginning of July.

Abu Tir did not leave. On Tuesday he received a phone call from the police asking him to report to the police station. He did not. On Wednesday he was notified that he must leave within two days. A few days before the June 19 deadline he had told Haaretz, in a conversation at his home: "I will not willingly leave the place my family has lived for 500 years."

That is also the clear position of the other three, who are the focus of a widespread mobilization of the Palestinian public that cuts across political, organizational and religious affiliations. Palestinian heads of churches in Jerusalem are drafting a position paper on the expulsions. Its subjects have been told that it will be sent to church leaders and their congregations throughout the world, as well as to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

The first meeting with Abbas was held shortly after a visit to Jordan, where according to sources in Abbas' office he and King Abdullah discussed Israel's plans to expel the four Jerusalem residents. Abbas called it "A grave act, one of many illegal measures carried out by Israel in Jerusalem."

Sanctioned by the High Court

Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch also played a role. Two weeks ago attorneys Fadi Qawasmi and Usama Sa'adi filed a motion for an injunction that would prevent the men from being expelled before the court hears their petition against the revocation of residency, scheduled for September 6. But last Sunday Beinisch ruled that there was no point in issuing the requested injunction because "this is not an irreversible measure." Meaning that even if deported they could appeal if the High Court of Justice strikes down the revocation of residency. But the High Court seems to be in no hurry. Only two sessions have been held since the petition was filed, in August 2006. The first discussed the request by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, to appear as amicae curiae (friends of the court ) and to submit a joint opinion against the revocation, on principle.

Beinisch's reply astonished attorney Hassan Jabareen of Adalah. "It's a central tenet not to deport before hearing [the arguments of the candidate for deportation - A.H.]. In the mass expulsion of Hamas members in 1992 they stopped the buses to allow High Court justices to hear the petitions. This is the first time a court doesn't issue an injunction before hearing a petition against expulsion," Jabareen said.

How will the expulsions actually be carried out? All of them together or each one separately, in the day, at night, how many police officers, what kind of vehicle, perhaps on the way to the grocery or the doctor? These are the questions that are not voiced. Nor is the destination discussed: Gaza? Ramallah? Jordan? The men's children pose questions that reveal their fears. One won't go to sleep until his father comes home, one calls constantly to check on his father's whereabouts. A third, aged 6, fantasizes about standing before the police officers.

Abu Tir seems the most tired of the four. Not only is he the eldest, but he has spent a total of 30 years in Israeli prisons, going in and out repeatedly. While he was in jail his parents died, his daughters married, his grandchildren were born and grew up, "and all without firing a single shot," he told Haaretz in the conversation at his home. The last time was the hardest, he said, because of his age as well as his sense of injustice. "The whole world, led by America, demanded that Abu Mazen [Abbas] hold elections, aware that our participation was a condition for holding these elections. They didn't say in advance that the price of participation was revoking residency," Abu Tir said.

'In a safe place'

The conversation with Abu Tir's three colleagues was held Wednesday in an East Jerusalem hotel. Telephone calls interrupted constantly. Abu Arafa, who proved to be a comedian, told one caller, "We're hiding in a safe place."

Abu Arafa related that in one meeting with Abbas, in June 2006, someone worried that the leader wouldn't understand his jokes, or barbs, to be precise. "But he laughed," Abu Arafa reassures us. At that meeting, he said, Abbas told him that he would continue to meet his obligations as spelled out in the Oslo Accords, if only to show the world the disgrace of Israel, which wasn't honoring them. "If all this at the end of the day is for the Palestinians, I'm sure that your intentions will get you into Paradise," Abu Arafa told him. In other words: You won't be judged by the outcome.

When asked to describe the Jerusalem of their childhood, Abu Arafa immediately replied, "We had no childhood." Totah, whose father's family is from the Old City while his mother's is from Katamon, echoed the sentiment, saying, "We were born adults." Atoun, who claims to have a document proving that his family has lived in Sur Baher for 700 years, and who has spent a total of 11 years in Israeli prisons, wants to make it clear: "It's not just us, it's the same for everyone." Abu Arafa does not hold back: "But some people have VIP cards."

The jab, which hints at the constant tension between the two rival Palestinian groups, was uttered a few hours before the meeting with Abbas. Two weeks ago Abu Tir had said that nobody from the PA had contacted him. The situation has manifestly changed, as Abu Arafa put it: "When the fire is all over the house, the whole family mobilizes to extinguish it." They add that they have always been willing to pay a price for their chosen path, but "expulsion from our home? By what law?."

The 1952 Entry into Israel Law, which grants residency permission to non-Jewish immigrants to Israel, was extended to Palestinians from East Jerusalem when it was annexed. This law gives the interior minister the authority to revoke the residency permit. "The State of Israel has always used a restricted approach regarding the revocation of residency," particularly in East Jerusalem, the state said in its response to the petition. But in the case of the petitioners, the moment they entered the [Palestinian] Legislative Council and the government, "on behalf of the Hamas terror organization, which is hostile to Israel... they very seriously violated their minimal obligation of loyalty to the State of Israel... to the citizens and residents of the State of Israel," the state's response said.

The attorneys representing the petitioners, Adalah and ACRI have many arguments regarding the legality of applying the Entry into Israel Law to individuals who were born in this country. "It was Israel that entered [East Jerusalem]," they say. They also point to the international pressure on Israel to hold elections in the PA. But above all, they reject as illegal the demand "for loyalty of the occupied to the occupier." In the eyes of the world, the attorneys say, East Jerusalem was and remains occupied territory. "The Hague rulings, the Fourth Geneva Convention, explicitly state that the occupying force cannot demand loyalty from people who are under occupation, either in the military or the ideological spheres," Jabareen said.

In East Jerusalem there is talk of a list with at least 315 people who are "next in line" for revocation of residency status. Qawasmi says he has not heard about the list, but that is precisely what the lawyers fear, that this is the start of a trend. Jabareen: "This is the first time since 1967 that residency is being revoked for breach of trust, whose definition is very vague. Until now residency was revoked for procedural reasons, because of an ostensible "severance of [the] connection to Jerusalem." If this decision is final, the conclusion is that residency can be revoked from any Palestinian engaging in public political activity. Today it's a Hamas member, tomorrow they'll revoke the residency of a Fatah member, or a senior PA adviser. Or a Palestinian journalist," Jabareen said.

"We're not in despair and we're not frustrated," Abu Arafa is at pains to point out. "On the contrary. We expect that by expelling us Israel will be doing another foolish thing that will move the entire world. Every decision it makes leads to another failure. When it expelled the Hamas members in 1991, everyone wanted to meet with them. Hamas became stronger, and in the end Israel was forced to bring them back," Abu Arafa said.

"If we're expelled, our voices will be heard everywhere. What is there to fear? What do we have left? They arrested us, took our ID cards, they'll expel us. What remains is to die," Totah added.

Atoun said: "We're convinced that in the final analysis the international balance and the map of global interests will change, and Israel will be judged in light of them."