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The revoking of citizenship should be outlawed

February 21, 2023 at 1:09 pm

An image of a Palestinian man holding a passport, in the central Gaza Strip on March 22, 2022 [SAID KHATIB/AFP via Getty Images]

Why should anyone have to live in fear of losing their citizenship simply for trying to exercise their civil and political rights? This is what the indigenous people of Palestine face after the Israeli Knesset (parliament) approved a law last Wednesday that allows the occupation authorities to revoke citizenship or residency of detainees if they “receive Palestinian funds after committing acts that Israel classifies as terrorism.”

It is not enough for the occupying forces to have absolute control over the land of Palestine after expelling the majority of its original inhabitants, and it is not enough for them to kill children and women. Nor are they content with destroying the homes of those engaged in legitimate resistance to the military occupation. Now they have adopted this citizenship-stripping measure that has been criticised by international human rights organisations, which regard it as an arbitrary step to be added to the list of Israel’s other unjust policies and practices.

Last month, we saw a Palestinian man waiting for Israeli bulldozers to demolish his home and deprive his family of their only shelter. What was his crime? He is the father of a young Palestinian, Khairy Alqam, who killed some illegal settlers last month just days after Israeli troops killed ten Palestinians in Jenin. The young man was shot dead by occupation forces, but that wasn’t enough for the Israelis. They also demolished his family home in a clear violation of international law, under which collective punishment is a war crime. Depriving the accused person’s family of their only shelter is not only unjust, but also a breach of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, under which adequate shelter is a right. The hearts of the people who decided to do this have hardened; they have no conscience and care nothing for the homeless and the hungry.

READ: Israel to revoke citizenship, residency of Palestinian prisoners

Israel demolishes Palestinian homes and approves new Israeli settlement homes - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Israel demolishes Palestinian homes and approves new Israeli settlement homes – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

However, the Alqam family’s situation is not unique. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OCHA), in 2022, Israel demolished 708 homes in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. At the same time, the occupation state continued to expand its illegal settlements.

Israel doesn’t apply such policies to its Jewish criminals; they do not have their family homes demolished, nor are they stripped of citizenship, regardless of the charges against them. They are either imprisoned or fined, or both. Having different laws for citizens of different racial backgrounds is a symptom of apartheid.

Justice requires that the punishment fits the crime, and is not used for state retaliation or to score political points. An established principle is that the violation of human rights is not permissible under any circumstances, because this weakens the law and violates the principles of justice and fairness. Even those who commit terrorist acts cannot have their rights violated. It is not permissible to torture them or deprive them of food and water, or sleep; to harass their family and friends; or deprive them of due process such as access to lawyers and fair trials. These considerations restore the rule of law which deters the abuse of human rights. Problems arise when adherence to the law is superficial and people are ready to break it on a whim, allowing their feelings to influence their behaviour. When logic is marginalised, justice gets shelved.

International human rights are supposed to be binding on UN member states, of which Israel is one. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms the right of every person to have citizenship and prohibits governments from depriving them of it. Furthermore, the UN Charter prohibits the withdrawal of nationality from any citizen based on race, religion or politics, as well as the prohibition of revoking citizenship in cases where the citizen is left stateless. However, the Charter excludes those states whose own national laws granted them, at the time of signing the Convention, the right to strip a citizen of their citizenship and render them stateless.

The UK is one of the countries thus exempted, but until recently it had not used this right since 1973. There is a tendency among the “deep state” institutions to restrict freedoms and strip people of some rights. In one case, citizenship was refused for an otherwise eligible person because, wrote the UK Home Secretary at the time, “Given your activity in opposing a friendly government, you do not meet the conditions of being an upstanding citizen in order to be granted citizenship.” Britain’s Institute of Race Relations (IRR) said that British Muslims are at risk of having their citizenship revoked, turning them into second-class citizens. The British government passed the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act in 2002 which allows British nationals to be deprived of their citizenship if the Home Secretary deems them to be a threat. The government can revoke citizenship without giving the reason why.

READ: New Israel law allows stripping residency of Palestinians convicted of terrorism

The problem is complicated by the fact that some countries in the so-called “free world” pass legislation that violates international legal principles. Moreover, they often turn a blind eye when their allies violate such principles. Neither the US nor Britain objected when the Bahrain government revoked the citizenship of about 1,000 people because they took part in peaceful demonstrations calling for political reform. After international pressure, citizenship was restored to half of them, but 500 people remain deprived of their citizenship of the country where they, their fathers and grandfathers were born and raised.

Nor did the US and Britain voice any serious objections when Israel passed its racist laws affecting the Palestinians who have had their country occupied by Zionists since 1948, and have faced gradual ethnic cleansing ever since. Israel has used deportation on a number of occasions against the Palestinians. In 1993, for example, more than 400 Palestinians were dumped in Marj Al-Zuhur, a bleak area of southern Lebanon, in supposed retaliation for resistance against the occupation. Had it not been for international pressure at the time, they would probably still be there, and it would have become another refugee camp for those whose land has been stolen and occupied and from which they were forcibly removed. There is no doubt that the withdrawal of citizenship is another kind of deportation and expulsion, because it turns individuals into stateless strangers within the borders of their own country and robs them of their inalienable rights.

Citizenship has thus been weaponised in order to force people to compromise their political positions and activities, and accept that their inalienable rights are being taken away.

Nevertheless, revoking citizenship has failed to curb anti-occupation activities and stop people from seeking political and human rights reform. Governments such as Israel’s, however, continue to violate international laws and conventions with impunity. This exposes the hollow claim by governments in the “free world” that they seek to establish the rule of law in a world in which everyone’s life and rights are secure.

The reality is that the international community has abandoned the values that were promoted after World War Two aimed at reassuring people that they are protected by the law, that their rights are safeguarded, and their freedoms are guaranteed. There is no doubt that the new Israeli law to revoke the nationality of Palestinian activists is a major arbitrary step and a harsh blow to the letter and the spirit of international law, which promotes the rights of the individual. There is no excuse for those who harm innocent people and use the instruments of the state to harm citizens, thus disregarding legitimacy and the rule of law.

READ: Israel Knesset passes law to deport Arab prisoners

The international community, especially the UN Security Council, should criminalise the stripping of citizenship and put real pressure on governments that treat their own citizens with contempt by granting them rights with one hand while stripping them of rights with the other. Without such pressure and reform, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has no soul, and international law, justice and human rights will vanish without a trace.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Quds Al-Arabi on 19 February 2022

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.