JERUSALEM — A sweeping new Israeli military order that's due to go into effect Tuesday could permit Israel to deport thousands of Palestinians it considers to be in the West Bank illegally, and could also affect foreign citizens who live in the West Bank.
The order, which was passed into military code six months ago but is due to go into effect Tuesday, was discovered by the Israel-based human rights group HaMoked: the Center for the Defense of the Individual, and reported in Sunday's Haaretz newspaper. HaMoked and nine other human rights groups appealed to Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak Monday to delay enforcing the order.
Under the new Israeli rules, anyone caught living in the West Bank without an Israeli permit could face expulsion within three days or be sentenced to up to seven years in prison.
The deportation policy would be applied primarily to Palestinians or foreign nationals who are residing in West Bank without permits, according to an army statement.
"The major problem is that for the first time, Palestinians can be regarded as infiltrators in their own land," said Elad Kahana, a lawyer for HaMoked who added that even people who've been living in the West Bank for 20 years would be required to obtain special permits.
"The main target is people who originally came from the Gaza Strip and foreigners who came here under family reunification laws," she said.
The greatest number of those in the second category, said a spokeswoman for the human rights organization B'tselem, are Jordanian women who married West Bank Palestinian men. Such marriages are common, usually within extended families.
"These are the groups at risk, but the order is so general and so wide that it could be used against almost anybody caught in the West Bank," said Sarit Michaeli, the spokeswoman for B'tselem.
In recent years, several Gaza-born Palestinians have been deported from the West Bank to Gaza. One of the most prominent deportation occurred late last fall when Berlanty Azzam, a student at Bethlehem University, was arrested at a Ramallah-area checkpoint on her way to a job interview. Having been born in Gaza, she was detained by soldiers and then deported her back to the coastal strip several months before her scheduled graduation.
The Oslo Accords declared that the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which Israel took from Jordan and Egypt, respectively, in the 1967 Six-Day War, should be considered one contiguous territory. As such, many human rights groups say this behavior by Israeli forces is illegal, and seems aimed at reducing Palestinian population growth in the West Bank.
The new military order, B'tselem said, is an attempt on the part of the army to make deportations easier, as well as adding the possibility of criminal charges.
"Let's say you're born in Gaza, but you came to study at Bir Zeit University (north of Ramallah) and you stayed and got married, even had kids," Michaeli said, explaining a typical predicament.
"According to Israel, you're still a Gazan, and if you cross a checkpoint and a soldier notices that your ID card says Gaza, you could be arrested and deported. If you are eventually forced to leave the West Bank, you're likely to bring your family with you."
According to HaMoked, "tens of thousands of Palestinians" would live in danger of being deported to Gaza or Jordan.
Exact numbers are difficult to obtain, however, because the numbers of people to be considered "illegal sojourners" by the Israeli military order haven't been documented.
Prusher is a Christian Science Monitor staff writer.