JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel on Thursday announced it has stripped a Palestinian lawyer of his Jerusalem residency and plans to deport him to France, saying the man is an activist in a banned militant group.
The decision by Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked underscored the fragile status of Jerusalem’s Palestinians, who hold revocable Israeli residency rights but with few exceptions are not citizens. It also threatened to trigger a diplomatic spat with France, which has argued against the deportation.
Salah Hammouri has been held since March in administrative detention – an Israeli tool that allows authorities to hold suspects without charge for months at a time. Shaked said that after Hammouri’s detention expires this weekend, he would be deported to France as quickly as possible. Hammouri is a lifelong Jerusalem resident but holds French citizenship.
“We must fight terrorism with all the tools at our disposal,” she said. “It is not acceptable for terrorists like Hammouri to gain status in Israel.”
Israel says that Hammouri is a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a group that is considered a terrorist organization by Israel and the United States. 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, said he has used his Jerusalem residency to continue “his hostile, serious and significant activity.” Last year, Shaked revoked his Jerusalem residency rights, claiming a “breach of allegiance,” and early this year he was placed in administrative detention based on secret evidence that he was not allowed to see.
Israel’s Supreme Court this week cleared the way for the deportation after rejecting an appeal from Israeli human rights group HaMoked against the order stripping him of his residency.
HaMoked attorney Dani Shenhar called the revocation of his residency a “drastic measure that violates a person's basic right to live in their homeland.”
“As a member of the indigenous population of Jerusalem, Hammouri owes no allegiance to the state of Israel,” Shenhar said. "The fact that this decision was made largely on the basis of secret evidence only exacerbates the injustice."
It was not immediately clear when Hammouri will be deported. French President Emmanuel Macron has previously raised concerns about the case with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid.
“France follows Salah Hammouri’s situation very closely and at the highest level,” said the French Foreign Ministry in a statement. He "must be able to have a normal life in Jerusalem, where he was born and where he lives, and his wife and children must be able to travel there to get back with him.”
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 Israel company NSO Group.
It was not known who placed the spyware on the phones. Israel says 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.
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 recognized. 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% of the population, hold Israeli citizenship, and that just 34% of applications are approved. It cited information from the Interior Ministry delivered by Shaked to a parliamentary inquiry.