RAMALLAH, West Bank, (AP) – Israel’s military has issued new orders that human rights groups warned Sunday could lead to the expulsion of tens of thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank.
Under the new rules, anyone caught living in the West Bank without an Israeli permit could face expulsion within as little as three days or be sentenced to up to seven years in prison.
The orders are to go into effect Tuesday. The military said existing law already allows for the expulsion of illegal residents and that the new order adds another layer of judicial oversight over deportation procedures.
However, 10 Israeli human rights groups urged Defense Minister Ehud Barak to rescind the new rules.
The rights groups said the orders are so vague and sweeping that virtually all West Bankers are potentially at risk. For example, the military does not define what permits are required to shield against deportation, the groups said. The military later clarified that West Bankers with residency rights would not be targeted.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat denounced the new measures as “an assault on ordinary Palestinians, and an affront to the most fundamental principles of human rights.” He said Palestinians are being turned into criminals in their own homes.
Erekat and the Israeli activists said they believe the initial targets will include Gazans living in the West Bank and the foreign spouses of West Bank residents. Tens of thousands of people are at risk in these two groups, said the rights group HaMoked.
Since the outbreak of the second Palestinian uprising in 2000, Israel has prevented movement between impoverished Gaza and the West Bank, the territories that flank Israel and are sought by the Palestinians for their state. Before the travel ban, thousands of Gazans had moved to the more prosperous West Bank in search of jobs.
However, the Israeli-issued ID cards of the Gazans living in the West Bank still identify them as Gaza residents, since Israel has refused to change their addresses. This would make them vulnerable under the new orders.
Over the past decade, Israel also tightened restrictions on immigration to the West Bank, meaning thousands of foreigners married to West Bankers don’t have legal residence.
The new orders are an amendment to a 1969 order that had originally taken aim at infiltrators sneaking in from neighboring enemy states. The new order broadens the definition of an infiltrator to anyone in the West Bank without a permit.
In other developments Sunday, the New York-based group Human Rights Watch said Israel and Hamas have failed to conduct credible investigations of alleged war crimes during last year’s Gaza war.
Human Rights Watch presented a 62-page review of the investigative efforts of both sides. It urged the international community to pressure both sides to launch independent investigations before a July deadline set by the United Nations.
Earlier this year, the U.N. warned of “further action” if the deadline is ignored, though it is not clear if Israel and Hamas could end up before an international tribunal.
Both Israel and Hamas have denied committing war crimes.
Israel launched its 22-day war on Gaza’s Hamas rulers on Dec. 27, 2008, after years of rocket fire from Gaza on Israeli border communities. Israel unleashed massive force, killing some 1,400 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians. Thirteen Israeli civilians and soldiers were also killed.
U.N. investigators headed by former war crimes prosecutor Richard Goldstone wrote in a report last year that they found evidence that both sides committed war crimes. Hamas was cited for indiscriminate rocket fire on Israeli civilians, while Israel was accused of using disproportionate force and intentionally harming civilians.