Editorial

The Man Without a State

Ala'a Ziwad's citizenship was revoked because he committed an attack - an abominable crime, but like anyone else who commits a crime, he should be punished according to the law

Ala’a Ziwad at his arraignment in a Haifa court in November 2015.
Ala’a Ziwad at his arraignment in a Haifa court in November 2015. Rami Shllush

The Haifa District Court's decision to accede to Interior Minister Arye Dery’s request and revoke the citizenship of Ala’a Ziwad, an Israeli born in Nazareth, because he committed a car-ramming and stabbing attack that wounded several Israeli soldiers and civilians, is a terrible one. Granted, it’s not against the law, which allows the courts to strip people of their citizenship if they commit an act that entails “breach of trust” against the state: Carrying out a terrorist attack is defined as breach of trust under this law. But the power this law conveys is a draconian one that should have never been granted to begin with.

Ziwad committed an abominable crime, but like anyone else who commits a crime, he should be punished according to the law. And in fact, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Putting people on trial, convicting them on the basis of the evidence and sentencing them is the right way to punish terrorists. There’s no place for other steps that entail depriving someone of their fundamental rights, beyond the deprivation of rights inherent in the sentence itself.

This is partly because it’s unacceptable to impose administrative penalties that go beyond those imposed by law, and partly because such administrative penalties always end up being imposed in a discriminatory fashion. Just as with the demolition of terrorists’ houses, the revocation of citizenship will presumably be used only against Arabs – and not Jews.

Stripping an individual of his citizenship is especially horrific when it is done, as it was in this case, to a person who has no other citizenship. Making a person stateless is unacceptable because citizenship is generally a basic condition for obtaining other rights. Not for nothing has the right to citizenship been termed “the right to have rights.” The UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness forbids stripping someone of his citizenship if this means making him stateless.

Israel’s law is flawed in this regard. Admittedly, it says a person cannot have his citizenship revoked if doing so will leave him with no country of citizenship, but this restriction has an important exception: A person can be deprived of citizenship even if this leaves him stateless as long as the interior minister grants him Israeli residency. Yet Dery gave Ziwad only temporary residency, an inferior status that allows the holder basic social rights, but not civil rights. Moreover, this is a temporary status and its renewal depends on the discretion of the interior minister – it can therefore be lost.

In deciding to strip Ziwad of his citizenship, the court was party to making him stateless, in violation of the most fundamental principles which ought to be respected even in the case of terrorists.