Woody Guthrie memorably wrote that “some rob you with a six-gun and some with a fountain pen.” Similarly, some ethnic cleansing happens by force and out in the open a la Serbia’s displacement of Croats and Kosovars during the Yugoslav wars, and some happens with the stroke of a pen. Witness the IDF’s expulsion between 1967 and 1994 of 140,000 Palestinians from their homeland by trumped up regulations that artificially denied residency if they did not return promptly to their homes from travel, study or work abroad.
Israel has used a covert procedure to cancel the residency status of 140,000 West Bank Palestinians between 1967 and 1994, the legal advisor for the Judea and Samaria Justice Ministry’s office admits, in a new document obtained by Haaretz. The document was written after the Center for the Defense of the Individual filed a request under the Freedom of Information Law.
The document states that the procedure was used on Palestinian residents of the West Bank who traveled abroad between 1967 and 1994. From the occupation of the West Bank until the signing of the Oslo Accords, Palestinians who wished to travel abroad via Jordan were ordered to leave their ID cards at the Allenby Bridge border crossing.
They exchanged their ID cards for a card allowing them to cross. The card was valid for three years and could be renewed three times, each time adding another year.
If a Palestinian did not return within six months of the card’s expiration, thier documents would be sent to the regional census supervisor. Residents who failed to return on time were registered as NLRs – no longer residents. The document makes no mention of any warning or information that the Palestinians received about the process.
Interestingly, even the IDF’s chief administrative officer in the Territories during this period didn’t know of its existence. That’s how much of a secret it was. If you wonder why…clearly the IDF knew it was violating international law.
This procedure is still in place for East Jerusalem residents who lose their residency if they stay abroad longer than seven years. Moked, the NGO which uncovered this dreadful wrong, also notes that an unknown number of Gazans similarly have lost their residency rights. That number is still considered a secret by the IDF.
So let’s be clear about a few things and call them by their rightful name. This is ethnic cleansing. It is “nice” ethnic cleansing because no one gets killed and no one is physically driven from their home in the dead of night as happened in other historic instances of such crimes. In that sense, it’s a quite tidy and effective tactic to decrease the Palestinian population. It violates nternational law and will not stand in the long-term.
Now, Israel will have to add to those entitled to return not only tens (or more) thousands of Nakba returnees, but hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from the Territories. And those 140,000 have grown by leaps and bounds because their children have been deprived as well of their patrimony.
This is a quiet crime that must be undone.
This article first appeared at Tikun Olam