Israel tries to deport Palestinians Appeal thwarts retaliation for kidnapping death

December 17, 1992|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Jerusalem Bureau

JERUSALEM -- Israel moved today to deport 418 Palestinians to Lebanon for two years, an unprecedented mass expulsion in retaliation for the kidnap and murder of a policeman this week.

The government began to haul the Palestinians to the border in secrecy last night, but lawyers won a temporary delay and a hasty hearing at dawn before the Israel Supreme Court.

The deportees are among 1,600 Palestinians arrested this week in a sweep of supporters of the Hamas Muslim fundamentalist group. The organization had claimed responsibility for Sunday's abduction of border policeman Nissim Toledano, whose body was found Tuesday.

Lawyers for the Palestinians pleaded before three justices of the Supreme Court for an injunction to stop the transfer. As they argued, the deportees were being held near the border, poised to be moved as soon as the court approved.

"These people ought to be given the opportunity to go to court," said Joshua Schoffman, an attorney for the Palestinians.

The attorney general of Israel, Joseph Harish, argued that government would be "a laughing stock" if the deportation operation were to be prohibited. He warned of a deterioration of safety for Israelis "if the orders are not carried out to the letter."

Israel's use of deportations for punishment in the past has been internationally condemned, and this latest move is certain to bring fresh criticism.

The government said in a statement that "steps must be taken against the murderous and terrorist Islamic fundamentalist organizations, the enemies of peace."

It said military commanders in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were given power yesterday to order the immediate expulsions.

Deportations are prohibited by the Geneva Convention, and in recent years Israel has lessened its use of such expulsions. Israeli authorities hoped to bypass criticisms by arguing that because the duration of the forced absences is limited to two years, these expulsions are not deportations.

"They are not deportations; they are temporary removals," Gad Ben-Ari, a spokesman for Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, said today.

The Palestinians to be deported -- leaving behind wives, families and homes -- have not been charged or tried.

Normally, deportation orders from the military can be appealed to the Supreme Court, although the high court has never overturned such an order.

The government disclosed today that it had set up a special appeal process for those it planned to take to Lebanon, whereby an appeal could be heard by a "special committee" at the request of a family member of the deported Palestinian. The expelled person would not be present.

Leah Tzemel, an Israeli attorney, helped win this morning's hasty court order delaying the deportations.

The Palestinians were to have been taken by bus to the Lebanese border before dawn and ordered to cross.

Mrs. Tzemel said she had heard rumors of the impending transfer late last night. By the time she got a judge to hear her request to stop the move shortly after midnight "the buses were rolling," she said.

There was no public discussion of the deportation action beforehand, and details of the operation were kept under tight censorship until the court delay led to disclosure.

Mr. Harish argued the secrecy and speed of the operation were necessary given the increased violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in recent weeks.

"There comes and hour, there comes a minute, when enough is enough," he said.

Israeli officials had vowed to retaliate for the kidnapping of Sergeant Toledano as he walked to work near Tel Aviv.

An armed faction of Hamas demanded the release of the group's founder from an Israeli prison in return for the policeman, but he was killed after the expiration of their deadline Sunday night.

"The world should not be surprised if this time we have to take very tough measures," Prime Minister Rabin said after the discovery of the sergeant's body.

Mr. Rabin has not authorized any deportations since he took office in July. In August, he changed the expulsion orders of 11 Palestinians to prison terms. But he never renounced the use of expulsion as punishment.

Although there have been no previous mass expulsions of this size from Israel, 1,266 Palestinians have been deported since 1967 when the first deportation order was issued. The largest number was in 1970, when 406 were expelled. Deportations have decreased significantly in recent years.

International protests are based on the Geneva Convention, which states that deportations are prohibited. Israel contends that emergency laws passed in 1945 during the British Mandate give the military commander of the territory authority to order a deportation "to maintain public security or suppress a rebellion."

Following the policeman's kidnapping, military sources acknowledged that the sweep of arrests against Hamas and another fundamentalist Islamic group, Islamic Jihad, was intended to reduce their growing popularity among Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

The crackdown was intended to boost the strength of the Fatah faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which is supporting Middle East peace talks.

The fundamentalists stridently oppose negotiating with Israel.

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