Israel votes to strip citizenship from Palestinians convicted of terrorism

Bethan McKernan

The Guardian  /  February 16, 2023

New law is aimed at Israeli citizens who have received financial aid from the Palestinian Authority.

Israel has passed legislation allowing the state to strip Palestinians convicted of terror offences of citizenship or residency and deport them to the West Bank or Gaza Strip if they have accepted financial aid from the Palestinian Authority.

The new law, which the Knesset voted for on Wednesday, is designed to discourage what Israel calls “pay for slay” stipends, which Palestinians view as assistance for the families of those imprisoned. Israel says the longstanding practice serves as an incentive to violence.

“It is inconceivable that Israeli citizens and residents who have not only betrayed the state and Israeli society but have also agreed to receive payment from the PA as wages for committing the act of terrorism, and continue to benefit from it, will continue to hold Israeli citizenship or residency status,” an explanatory note to the bill says.

The decision could affect 140 citizens of Israel with Palestinian heritage and 211 Palestinians from East Jerusalem with Israeli residency permits who are currently held in jail, according to the Israeli rights group HaMoked.

The deportation of people from East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed in 1967, would be considered a war crime under international law, and critics have said the new measures amount to population transfer.

Jewish members of the Knesset, including the opposition, voted overwhelmingly in favour of the legislation, which passed 94-10, while Palestinian lawmakers voted against it. Ahmad Tibi, the leader of the opposition Ta’al party, which advocates for the rights of Israel’s Palestinian minority, said the bill was racist because it did not apply to Jews convicted of terrorism.

“An Arab [Palestinian] who commits an offence is a conditional citizen,” he said. “If a Jew commits the same offence or a more serious one, they don’t even think of revoking his citizenship.”

Kadoura Fares, the head of the Palestinian prisoners’ club, a West Bank-based group that represents prisoners and their families, said the law was a “very dangerous decision that aims to transfer Palestinians from their cities and villages under the pretext of getting social assistance from the Palestinian Authority”.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) is a semi-autonomous body that controls parts of the West Bank, while the Gaza Strip is ruled by the Islamist group Hamas. In 2018, Israel passed a law allowing the government to withhold the same amount of money the PA is estimated to give to the families of Palestinian prisoners.

Last year, Israel’s supreme court ruled that the state could revoke the citizenship of people convicted of acts that constitute a “breach of loyalty”, including terrorism, espionage and treason.

In a separate case and a legal first, Israel recently deported Salah Hamouri, a dual national Palestinian-French human rights lawyer from East Jerusalem. The state claimed he belonged to a banned militant group, which fitted the 2021 definition of a breach of loyalty.

Bethan McKernan is Jerusalem correspondent for The Guardian