JERUSALEM, Dec 18 (AP): Israel said it deported a Palestinian lawyer and activist to France early on Sunday, claiming he has ties to a banned militant group, despite objections from the French government.
The expulsion of Salah Hammouri underscored the fragile status of Palestinians in Israel-annexed east Jerusalem, where most hold revocable residency rights but are not Israeli citizens.
It also set up a possible diplomatic spat with France, which had repeatedly appealed to Israel not to carry out the expulsion.
“I’m happy to announce that justice was served today and the terrorist Salah Hammouri was deported from Israel,” Israel’s interior minister, Ayelet Shaked, announced in a videotaped statement. He was set to land in Paris just before 10 am local time.
Hammouri was born in Jerusalem but holds French citizenship.
Israel says Hammouri is an activist in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a group that it has labelled a terrorist organisation.
He has worked as a lawyer for Adameer, a rights group that assists Palestinian prisoners that Israel has banned for alleged ties to the PFLP.
He spent seven years in prison after being convicted in an alleged plot to kill a prominent rabbi but was released in a 2011 prisoner swap with the Hamas militant group. He has not been convicted in the latest proceedings against him.
Israel, however, claimed he continued his activities with the banned group, stripped him of residency, and placed him last March in administrative detention — a status that allows Israel to hold suspected militants for months at a time without charging them or putting them on trial.
Hammouri was not charged in the current case, but Shaked ordered the deportation when his detention order expired. Israel’s Supreme Court had rejected an appeal against the decision to revoke Hammouri’s residency status.
The Israeli human rights group HaMoked, which had defended Hammouri, condemned Sunday’s expulsion.
A January 1 hearing on the matter had been scheduled, and it was not immediately clear how Israel was able to push ahead with the deportation.
“Deporting a Palestinian from their homeland for breach of allegiance to the state of Israel is a dangerous precedent and a gross violation of basic rights,” said the group’s director, Jessica Montell. “HaMoked will continue to fight against this unconstitutional law.”
Last year, Hammouri was among six human rights activists whose mobile phones were found by independent security researchers to have been infected with spyware made by the Israeli company NSO Group.
It was not known who placed the spyware on the phones. Israel said there’s no connection between the terror designation of Adameer and five other Palestinian rights groups and any alleged use of NSO spyware.
Israel has provided little evidence publicly to support the terrorism designation, which Palestinian groups say is meant to muzzle them and dry up their sources of funding.
Aryeh Deri, Shaked’s apparent successor as interior minister in Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government, said Hammouri’s deportation was “the end of a long but just legal process” and congratulated Shaked for carrying it out.
The expected new governing coalition is set to pass legislation to allow Deri to serve as a minister despite a recent conviction on tax offenses.
Israel captured east Jerusalem, home to the city’s most important religious sites, in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed the area in a move that is not internationally recognised.
It considers the entire city to be its capital, while the Palestinians claim east Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.
While Jews in the city are entitled to automatic citizenship, Palestinians are granted residency status. This allows them freedom of movement, the ability to work and access to Israeli social services, but they are not allowed to vote in national elections.
Residency rights can be stripped if a Palestinian is found to live outside the city for an extended period or in certain security cases.
Palestinians can apply for citizenship. But few do, not wanting to be seen as accepting what they see as an occupation. Those who do apply, however, face a lengthy and bureaucratic process.
The Haaretz daily reported this year that fewer than 20,000 Palestinians in Jerusalem, some 5 per cent of the population, hold Israeli citizenship, and that just 34 per cent of applications are approved. It cited information from the Interior Ministry delivered by Shaked to a parliamentary inquiry.
It was not known if France would accept Hammouri. The Foreign Ministry has previously said “he must be able to exercise all his rights and lead a normal life in Jerusalem, his city of birth and residence”.