Palestinian refugee - Reuters
Palestinian refugee Mohamed Harb holding a key he says belongs to a house his family was forced to flee 63 years ago. Photo by Reuters
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Israel's revocation of the residency status of 140,000 West Bank Palestinians is a war crime, top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat charged yesterday.

He was responding to a report in yesterday's Haaretz that quoted an official Israeli document revealing that Israel used a covert procedure to revoke the residency status of numerous West Bank Palestinians who traveled abroad between 1967 and 1994.

The document was released after the Center for the Defense of the Individual filed a request under the Freedom of Information Law.

In a statement sent to Haaretz yesterday, Erekat said the document confirms Palestinian claims that Israel is engaging in "a systematic policy of displacement in order to gain land for the expansion of more settlement-colonies and to change the demographic composition of the occupied Palestinian territories."

"This policy should not only be seen as a war crime, as it is under international law; it also has a humanitarian dimension," he added. "We are talking about people who left Palestine to study or work temporarily but who could not return to resume their lives in their country with their families."

"Israel's actions violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that 'everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country,'" Erekat continued.

In light of the Haaretz report, the statement said, Erekat "called on those states in the international community that have yet to recognize the Palestinian state on the 1967 border to join those who have already done so."

"Our right to self-determination must not be subject to negotiations, including the right of our families to live in their homeland," the statement concluded. "It is time to put an end to the pain and humiliation caused by the continuation of the Israeli occupation."