Setting Precedent, Israeli Court Approves Revoking Citizenship of Convicted Terrorist

Ala’a Ziwad's mother is a citizen of Israel, but his Palestinian father is not

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

An Israeli court approved on Sunday the request to revoke the Israeli citizenship of Ala’a Ziwad, who was convicted of carrying out hit-and-run and stabbing attacks in October 2015.

This is the first time such a decision has been made since the Citizenship Law was amended in 2008. The change ensured that any request by the interior minister to strip the citizenship of an Israeli involved in terrorist activities is also supported by the court and the attorney general. Prior to the amendment, the interior minister had the authority to revoke citizenship, but used it in very rare cases.

The precedent-setting decision was approved by both the Haifa Distric Court and the attorney general, as per the law.

Ziwad confessed and was convicted on four counts of attempted murder and possession of a knife for racist purposes in a plea bargain agreement in June 2016. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison and ordered to pay 340,000 shekels ($94,000) in compensation to the victims.

Interior Minister Arye Dery asked the court to revoke Ziwad’s citizenship in May 2016. Ziwad, 22, was a resident of the Israeli Arab city of Umm al-Fahm. His mother is an Israeli citizen but his Palestinian father is not. Judge Avraham Elyakim approved the citizenship revocation request, leaving Ziwad as a temporary resident of Israel. The decision will take effect on October 31, giving him time to appeal.

The 30-page ruling lays out the claims on both sides of the issue. “Two determinations can be made in a clear and distinct fashion: The respondent [Ziwad] violated his loyalty to the State of Israel in a concrete and significant manner, and revoking his citizenship would cause serious harm to his constitutional rights.”

Every citizen has obligations alongside their rights, wrote the judge, including loyalty to the nation, which includes not carrying out terrorist acts against its residents and its security. “Orel, Niv, Liat and Adi [the four victims] who [Ziwad] tried to murder have the constitutional right to life,” added Elyakim.

Elyakim said that when balancing between the risks from such "second-generation" children and lives of Israeli residents, the right to life is preferred over the right to citizenship “of those who choose to violate the trust of the State of Israel and carry out acts of terrorism in its territory.”

Last month Dery submitted an updated statement to the court saying that the request focuses on a particular population group that Ziwad belongs to as the son of a Palestinian father who received an Israeli resident permit through the family reunification process. He said that Ziwad is considered to be a “second-generation family reunification” citizen.

The judge noted that such citizens are in an inherent conflict between two loyalties and two identities.

Elyakim said he was presented with a classified opinion from an expert from the Shin Bet security service on the risks related to the children of parents who moved to Israel as a result of family reunification. The document surveyed 98 cases of such "second-generation" children involved in terrorism from 2001 through 2016. The research found that they were three times as likely to be involved in terrorism as the general population; for residents of Jerusalem, this rose to 12 times as likely. Even though they were born and raised as Israeli citizens, they still preserve their Palestinian identity and view Israel as an enemy country in conflict with their people, said Elyakim.

Not only do their family relationships with people in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have an influence on their education and identification with the Palestinian narrative and mentality, but they also come in contact with an environment that does not rule out terrorism and does not prohibit violence against the Israeli public, said the judge. Revoking the citizenship for "second generation" children involved in terrorism is a more important tool for deterrence than home demolitions and could help put an end to the phenomenon, said Elyakim, basing his conclusions on the Shin Bet report.

The judge rejected Ziwad’s claims of selective prosecution due to the fact that no Jewish citizens had been deprived of their citizenship for involvement in serious security crimes since the Citizenship Law was amended in 2008. He said that the Interior Ministry had only invoked the amended clause twice, so there isn't enough data to assess whether this was a discriminatory policy. In addition, there is no way to compare the "second generation" children to Jewish assailants, he said.

Ziwad was convicted of deliberately ramming his car into two soldiers and then stabbing two others before he was subdued at the Gan Shmuel intersection near Hadera on Route 65. The two soldiers, a 19-year-old woman and a 20-year-old man, were admitted to the hospital in serious and moderate condition. A 14-year-old girl was hospitalized with stab wounds in moderate condition while a 45-year-old man was treated for minor stab wounds.

Revoking citizenship or residence status rescinds all the social rights a person is entitled to, including national insurance allowances and health insurance.

The Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights and The Association for Civil Rights in Israel responded in a statement announcing their intention to appeal the decision, saying that "the decision to revoke Ala'a Ziwad's citizenship sets a dangerous precedent," and that "it is no coincidence that the individual involved is an Arab citizen of Israel, as this request would never have been made for a Jewish citizen." The statement referenced the High Court of Justice's decision not to revoke Yigal Amir's citizenship after he assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, saying that this "deviates from precedent as well as international law."

Dery also said he would revoke Ziwad’s father’s Israeli residence permit.