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November 16, 2011 7:31 pm

Hamas Leaders Find Red Cross Refuge In Jerusalem, Minister Fights for Eviction

avatar by Samuel Sokol

Sheikh Jarrah, Jerusalem– Eli Yishai, Israel’s Interior Minister, has been given until January 21st to present the government’s case for the deportation of several members of Hamas currently holed up in the local headquarters of the Red Cross in Jerusalem.

MPs Khaled Abu Arafeh and Mohammad Totah, two Jerusalem residents serving as legislators representing Hamas in the Palestinian Legislative Council in Ramallah, have spent over a year in the Red Cross’ Sheikh Jarrah compound in order to avoid arrest by Israeli security forces.

The parliamentarians, who are not citizens of Israel but do carry blue identity cards denoting their status as legal residents, have had their residency rights revoked by the interior ministry due to their refusal to renounce ties with Hamas, a radical Islamic organization designated by Israel, the European Union and the United States as a terrorist group. A third legislator, MP Ahmad Atoun, was recently apprehended by the Israeli police after being lured out of the gated East Jerusalem compound. Should the MPs be arrested, the Interior Ministry has promised, they will be expelled to territory under control of the Palestinian Authority.

Israeli forces are reluctant to enter the compound without permission of the High Court following a petition by the Hamas political leaders. The Red Cross headquarters does not enjoy extraterritoriality.

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In response to a recent inquiry by the Algemeiner Journal regarding the MPs’ continued presence in east Jerusalem, a spokeswoman for the Jerusalem Police attempted to clarify her department’s policy, explaining that while the Hamas leaders’ residency had been revoked and they continued to maintain membership in a terrorist group, it would take an order from the High Court of Justice to make the police enter the compound. Should they leave, she hedged, they would be arrested immediately, just as happened with MP Atoun.

In their petition to the Court shortly after their arrival in the Red Cross, the parliamentarians claimed that their deportation orders, which they termed “a grave violation of international law, collective punishment and racial discrimination,” were illegal because Israeli law did not apply in “occupied East Jerusalem.”

The High Court seems to agree with the fugitives, at least in part. On October 23 Court President Dorit Beinisch ruled that Interior Minister Eli Yishai has 90 days to provide a reason for having canceled the Hamas members’ legal residency.

According to the court, “there is no specific legal doctrine or law that allows for people who were born in east Jerusalem to be expelled based on a breach of loyalty or for other reasons.”

Palestinians have interpreted the court’s declaration as “overruling Yishai’s decision because Israeli law does not grant the minister any power to make such a decision,” according to official Palestinian Authority news agency Wafa. The news service indicated that the new ruling would effectively end the legislators’ internal exile in the capital should Yishai fail to make his case.

This is a “step in the right direction,” the parliamentarians said in a statement following the court’s announcement. “Palestinian residents of Jerusalem have an inalienable right to live in their city without cleansing policies targeting them.”

Adalah – the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel agreed. In a statement to the Guardian, Adalah director Hassan Jabarin stated that “for the first time Israel is using a claim of disloyalty to revoke residency. The consequences for Palestinians in East Jerusalem are dangerous. This case could open a new window to revoking residency on purely political grounds.”

Ministry spokesmen declined to comment on the court’s ruling, with Yishai’s press adviser Ro’i Lahmanovich stating that he had not heard anything regarding this matter.

However, Shiri Cohen, a spokeswoman for the Courts Administration, did speak out to dispute the Palestinian interpretation of the High Court’s conditional declaration.

Calling the Wafa report “nonsense,” Cohen stated that giving the government 90 days to present its argument was standard procedure and did not indicate that it was judging in favor of the plaintiffs.

“Maybe the Supreme Court has decided to give Eli Yishai time to respond to this claim, but it cannot happen that the court will write down a decision that says if the state doesn’t reply, we will allow” the defendants to go free, she stated.

The government’s perceived inaction in this case has caused consternation among conservative lawmakers, with Deputy Minister for the Development of the Negev and Galilee MK Ayoob Kara (Likud) telling the Algemeiner Journal that he considers the MPs as “terrorists who must be removed” and that the government must take swift action to expel them from Jerusalem.

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