Knesset prepares to vote on draconian new laws against Arabs in Israel, Palestinian prisoners

Israel’s government plans increasing limitations on civil rights and punitive measures through legislation

Tuesday, 25 May, 2010 - 09:16
London, UK

Israel’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved a bill Sunday to revoke citizenship of Israelis convicted of terrorist activity or of espionage for terrorist organisations.

The bill has been passed on to the Knesset for a first vote slated to take place on Wednesday.

The proposed law is one of a series of five proposed by right-wing party Israel Beiteinu, nicknamed the ‘loyalty=citizenship laws.’

According to the bill, a person convicted of terrorism or espionage for terrorist groups would also be denied state benefits, support or salary.

Two other laws in the series were rejected by the Ministerial Committee. One proposed the disenfranchisement of Israeli prisoners convicted of terrorist activities, and the other proposed granting privileges in academic studies, employment and land allocation to Israelis who had completed military or national service.

The Committee’s approval of the bill came within the context of the recent arrest and interrogation of Israeli-Palestinian citizen Ameer Makhoul, director of human-rights organisation Ittijah, on unspecified and classified suspicions of espionage for Hizballah. A gag order on the precise allegations remains in place, and no formal charges have been made yet.

A Knesset committee also met Monday to discuss removal of immunity and revocation of rights of six Arab Members of Knesset for visiting Libya’s President, Muammar Gaddafi, several weeks ago.

Three of the Arab MKs under discussion decided not to attend the meeting. One, MK Haneen Zu’bi, left for Turkey in order to join an international aid and solidarity flotilla sailing to the Gaza Strip. The Chair of the Knesset Committee responded to this by saying that ‘in my view, whoever sets sail for the Hamas should be flown out of the Knesset’.

Knesset Chair MK Reuven Rivlin protested bitterly against the Committee discussion of revocation of immunity and said he would participate in the meeting in order to object personally to the initiative. Calling the initiative a dangerous precedent, he added that ‘even if there are grounds for limiting the actions of an MK, this should be done through criminal or ethical procedures and on no account through a political body’.

In parallel, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation also approved a bill that, if passed, would worsen the conditions in which Hamas prisoners are held in Israel. This law, too, will be voted on in the Knesset on Wednesday.

Israel’s two leading newspapers have welcomed the move, despite the fact that the bill’s initiators openly admitted that it was being introduced for political, not security reasons – in order to exert pressure on Hamas in negotiations for the release of corporal Gilad Shalit, held in Gaza since June 2006.

The mainstream daily Yediot Aharonot stated that “The only way to change anything substantive in the static situation in which we have become stuck on the Shalit issue is to press the prisoners so that they will press their leaders.” Yisrael Hayom, the right of centre daily, also justified the move, stating that “Special and harsh circumstances lead to special and harsh laws.”

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