Interior Minister Gilad Erdan has been refusing to issue a passport to Marhan Khaldi, a young Israeli Arab who went to fight in Iraq alongside ISIS, on the grounds that the applicant was involved in terrorism. There is also a chance his citizenship will be revoked.
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This represents a new policy on the part of Erdan, who took over the ministry just last month. Other Israeli Arabs who have gone to fight in Syria or Iraq have been issued new passports by the Israeli embassy in Turkey, and then arrested and tried upon their return to Israel. But in this case, when the man left Iraq and tried to get a passport at the Istanbul consulate, the consulate balked.
The man, a Nazareth resident, left Israel in October and cut off contact with his family, leading his relatives to suspect that he had gone to join a terrorist organization fighting in either Iraq or Syria. But after great effort, they managed to locate him and convince him to leave Iraq and return to Israel via Turkey, one relative said.
When the man arrived in Istanbul, he had no passport or other identifying documents. This isn’t uncommon; other Israeli Arabs who have joined terrorist organizations like the Islamic State have shredded their documents lest they be captured by enemies and identified as Israeli. There have also been claims that the terror organizations confiscate the passports of their foreign-born fighters to prevent them from deserting.
In any event, two weeks ago, the man’s father went to Istanbul to help him get a new passport from the Israeli consulate. They have yet to receive an answer to the application, even though the Foreign Ministry said that all the necessary documents had been prepared and sent on to the Interior Ministry.
The family’s attorney, Hussein Abu Hussein, asked the Interior Ministry why the passport hasn’t been issued, but hasn’t received a response. In his letter, Abu Hussein said his client needs urgent medical treatment, as his hand was wounded and he also suffered burns on various parts of his body. Moreover, should the state want to indict his client, that will be possible only if he returns to Israel, the attorney added.
The Foreign Ministry told Haaretz that although it sent all the necessary documents to the consulate, only the Interior Ministry has the authority to issue the passport, and hasn’t yet done so.
The Interior Ministry’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority declined to respond to Haaretz’s repeated requests for comment, referring all questions to Erdan’s office.
Erdan’s office responded in his name that, “for people involved in terror, use will also be made of the procedure for revoking citizenship. This is my policy. I’m waiting to receive recommendations from the security agencies in order to consider [instituting] proceedings for revoking Khaled’s citizenship before approving his return to Israel. This is someone who was apparently trained to murder people by one of the most brutal terrorist organizations in the world, and I must carefully consider his return to Israel and his future as an Israeli citizen.”
However, Erdan's office declined to respond to Haaretz’s questions as to why passports have been issued to other Israeli Arabs who fought in Syria or Iraq, and why the minister was considering revoking this man’s citizenship even though he hasn’t yet been convicted of anything.
Abu Hussein told Haaretz that while Erdan responded promptly to the paper’s request for comment, the minister has yet to respond to the attorney’s letter. Consequently, Abu Hussein had planned to file a complaint against Erdan with Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein Tuesday morning, accusing the minister of abusing his power as a member of a caretaker government.
"[Erdan] should have refrained from making such a fateful decision vis-a-vis an individual during an election campaign,” Abu Hussein said, adding that he expected Weinstein to overrule the decision to consider revoking his client’s citizenship.
For his part, the attorney general has recently overruled other ministers’ decisions on the grounds that they shouldn’t be made by a caretaker government.
Moreover, Abu Hussein noted, citizenship is a fundamental right, and it’s inconceivable that someone should face the possibility of losing his it when he hasn’t even been investigated or indicted, much less convicted.