My thankless task this time is to explain why the following statistic is disgusting: In 1994 Israel revoked the residency status of 25,645 Palestinians born in the West Bank. That is almost one-fifth of the number of Palestinians whose residency status was revoked after the occupation of the territories in 1967: 140,000.
In our times, when the threshold of what is disgusting keeps mounting, and when the demonstrations near Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence exhaust Israel’s critical energies, the task at hand is particularly difficult. But we’ll try anyway.
So where were we? In 1994. The prime minister is Yitzhak Rabin, the defense minister is Shimon Peres, the government is comprised of a coalition of Labor, Meretz and Shas. It’s the year of accelerated negotiations for an interim agreement with the Palestinians, on the way to a final status phase, which was still being called “peace” by believers. In May that year the Palestinian Authority was established. There was talk of disbanding the Civil Administration.
And still, from January to October 1994, the well-oiled machine of the administration – the executive arm of Israeli governmental policy in the occupied Palestinian territory – categorized more than 25,000 West Bank Palestinians as “ceased being a resident.” An order from above? A local initiative? We don’t know.
It’s only clear that right before the handling of the population registry was transferred from the Civil Administration to the PA, civilian and military bureaucrats hastened to get rid of as many listed Palestinian residents as possible. In 1993 Israel defined 2,475 West Bank Palestinians as “ceased being a resident” (the 1993 and 1994 figures were provided in a response that the Defense Ministry’s unit of Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories, aka COGAT, gave last month to attorney Adi Lustigman).
“Ceased to be residents” is a term coined by bureaucratic banality, and when it comes to Palestinians its real meaning in Hebrew is – expulsion, an act that is forbidden by international law. But since when has that bothered us? From official replies conveyed in the past to HaMoked: Center for the Defense of the Individual, according to the Freedom of Information Act, we know that in addition to 140,000 West Bank residents whose status was stolen from them between 1967 and 1994 (the last year Israel could do that), Israel revoked residency status from 108,878 Palestinians from the Gaza Strip and about 14,000 residents of East Jerusalem.
In other words, a total of about a quarter-of-a-million Palestinians who had traveled abroad but didn’t return home in the time allotted to them by Israel, “ceased to be residents.” And this without taking into account the tens of thousands of Palestinians who happened to be outside the West Bank and Gaza when the 1967 war erupted, or fled due to the war and therefore were not included in the population registry over which Israel took control. All the above, let us not forget, is on top of the 1948 mass expulsion.
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Israeli citizens (Jews as well as Palestinians) who have gone to live abroad remain citizens, but are not eligible for the social welfare rights accruing to a full-fledged resident. They and their children are, however, allowed to visit and to resettle in Israel. On the other hand, the revocation of the residency status of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is not simply a matter of freezing the right to proper health care, for example; it means depriving one of the natural right to return to one’s homeland and to bequeath this right to one’s children. Even the right of the “ceased to be residents” and their children to come for a visit is difficult to impossible to exercise due to Israel’s evil entry regulations.
During the Oslo Accords negotiations the Palestinians demanded that all the “ceased to be residents” could renew their status. Paragraph 28 (3) of the interim agreement states that “a joint committee will be established to solve the reissuing of identity cards to those residents who have lost their ID cards.”
The Palestinians believed that it was only a technical matter and that there was no argument between the sides over the essence: in other words, over the right of these people to return. However, their representatives discovered during the negotiations that the interpretations differed. At a certain point, a Palestinian official told me at the time, the word “lost” in the above clause was interpreted literally by the Israeli representatives as the physical loss of an ID card.
The committee began to work in 2000 but stopped due to the outbreak of the second intifada later in the year, “and to this day the PA has not asked to renew the activity of the committee,” according to COGAT replies to HaMoked in 2012 and to attorney Lustigman last month. The entity that is supposed to request the renewal of the committee’s activity is the Palestinian Ministry of Civil Affairs.
Even without the committee, since 1995 the residency status of several tens of thousands of Palestinians has been renewed. Some of them were included within the context of “the quota given to associates of the chairman (Yasser Arafat) and members of the Palestinian organizations” (as written in the response to HaMoked). Some regained residency status with the help of lawyers. Others – after an exhausting, prolonged and expensive struggle – succeeded to restore their residency status (but with a new ID number) by means of a procedure called “family reunification,” which was also frozen in 2000.
According to COGAT, it’s very difficult to calculate and break down all this data. There are also elements and figures in the COGAT response to Lustigman that are unclear, and therefore I am waiting to publicize them.
The temporary interim agreement that became permanent is a work of art of vagueness and land mines planted by seasoned Israeli lawyers and politicians. But here’s one of its few positive aspects: Since November 1994 Israel has no legal tool that allows it to revoke the residency status of Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank (except for East Jerusalem).