On Monday, the more-than-400 Palestinians expelled from Israel in December held a protest marking a month in exile. On the same day, the Israeli High Court opened a hearing on the legality of the deportations. This after-the-fact trial exemplifies the glaring injustice that has guided Israeli actions both in regard to the deportations and throughout its occupation of Palestinian lands.
The deportations are in direct violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention regarding the treatment of occupied territories and their populations. The laws of the Convention forbid the expulsion of citizens of occupied lands. If Israel wishes to present even the semblance of abiding by international law, it ought to allow the deportees to return immediately and prosecute them fairly. In addition, all of the deportees and their families should receive compensation and an official apology. Only those found guilty of crimes should be punished.
Unfortunately, however, in Israel, international law does not carry much weight. Israel's practices during its occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip violate several Geneva Convention articles and United Nations resolutions. For example, U.N. Resolution 194 calls for the return of any Palestinians made refugees in 1948 and for the compensation of those who do not wish to return. But Palestinians driven from their land in the 1948 and 1967 wars with Israel are forbidden from returning by the Israeli authorities. Israel's annexation of the Golan Heights is another glaring violation of U.N. resolutions.
Israel's transgressions are facilitated by the United States, which, since the U.N.'s inception, has used more of its Security Council vetoes for the protection of Israel from U.N. discipline than for any other purpose. Particularly distressing is the fact that the U.S. seems to have a double standard that allows in Israel what it condemns in any other country. Faced with the deportations and the recent military action against Iraq, several Arab governments as well as many others have pointed out the discrepancy between the speed and force with which U.N. resolutions are enforced with regard to Iraq and the way in which the resolutions regarding Israel are never enforced.
Though the United Nations condemned the deportations and urged Israel to return the deportees, Israel has remained intransigent. According to The New York Times, Israel has opened the hearing regarding the legality of the expulsions only as a public relations move in the wake of international condemnation of its actions and calls from European and Arab countries for U.N. sanctions against Israel.
The story of the deportation is a horrifying one. On December 17, claiming retaliation for the deaths of four Israeli soldiers at the hands of Hamas, Israel boarded 415 Palestinian men onto buses, gave them each 50 dollars, and drove them out of their home country. The Lebanese government refused to allow the men into Lebanon. Israel made no arrangements for food, water, shelter of first aid materials. The deportees were ill-equipped for the cold, and several are suffering from bad health. Two of the deportees were wounded by Israeli gunfire as the entire group was fired upon while attempting to walk back to Israel. Nonetheless, the Israeli government, in the first weeks of the crisis, prevented the Red Cross and other relief agencies from reaching the deportees, who are stranded in a snowy camp somewhere between Israel and Lebanon.
The men were never tried in a court of law. Israel claims that all of the men deported were members of Hamas, the Islamic fundamentalist Palestinian organization that opposes negotiation with Israel. However, Israel has offered absolutely no proof of these allegations. In addition, Israel never released a complete list of the deportees' names, nor did it inform their families. May of the deportees were in prison before their deportation, and several of their families do not know what has become of them.
An Israeli law which allowed a person slated to be deported to appeal the decision before the deportation was changed shortly before the 415 were deported. The law now allows for appeals within 60 days of the deportation by the deportee's family members or lawyer. Such appeals are obviously impossible when the deportee's family is not even aware of the deportation. In this way Israel mocks its own justice system.
Since the deportations, Israel has revealed that 10 men were falsely deported. Only one of them has been returned. In addition, human rights organizations have found that nine more of the deportees had been scheduled for release from Israeli prisons or had had their sentences shortened, and were deported on the eve of their release as a sort of extension of their sentences. The latter cases show an inhumane and frustrating policy, seemingly borrowed from Stalin's reign of terror, of asserting power by releasing prisoners only to jail them again or, in this case, deporting them. And the former cases are terrifyingly arbitrary, and reveal a bungling of justice that has been all too common in the Israeli occupation.
The deportations are also disturbing because they constitute an act of collective punishment, in which an entire community is punished for the actions of a few. Surely 415 men, and especially those who were in prison during the incidents, were not involved in the execution or even the planning of Hamas' attacks on Israeli soldiers and border police. However, it is not Israeli policy to punish only the guilty.
Tens of thousands of trees have been uprooted by Israel, and frequently entire villages are placed under curfew in retaliation for specific acts. Thousands of Palestinian homes have been sealed or demolished since the beginning of the occupation as punishment for anything from a stone-throwing child to graffiti found on the side of a house. Palestinians are continually punished for acts they are suspected of planning to carry out, while Israel is forgiven for crimes it actually commits.
...and the negotiations
By such a sweeping gesture, Israel wanted to destroy Hamas' infrastructure and leadership and weaken its popular support in the Occupied Territories.
But the deportations seem to have had the opposite effect. They have given legitimacy to Hamas and suggested to Palestinians that, if Israel so blatantly violates international law and disregards human rights and justice, then the armed struggle advocated by Hamas may indeed be the only way to achieve Palestinian rights. Political dialogue, as Israel has demonstrated, does not alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people, but instead gives Israel license to increase it.
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