Do Palestinian deportations loom?

AMMAN, Jordan — While Jordan and Israel often find themselves politically at odds, it’s rare to find an official group in the Kingdom publicly advocating direct support of armed resistance forces in the Palestinian territories. Jordan is, after all, one of two Arab nations that has a peace agreement with Israel.

Yet as concerns mount that a new Israel military order could potentially deport thousands of Palestinians to Jordan, a veterans’ organization here called to supply Palestinian militants with an “effective missile system.” In a recent statement, the National Committee of Retired Military also said the militia forces law should be reactivated to counter the new Israeli measure.

It remains unlikely that Israel’s new military order — that stipulates that it can deport any Palestinian in the West Bank without proper identification papers — will send many, if any, refugees into Jordan. However, activists and analysts agree that it poses a long-term threat for the Palestinians and the region, while also distracting from the peace process.

“It raises the level of tension in the region to unprecedented highs,” said Kamel Abu Jaber, Jordan’s former foreign minister and former minister of Palestinian affairs. “It is an indication that once again Israel has no intention whatsoever of abiding by commitments to the peace process, international law, the two-state plan of Obama. It’s saying to the whole world, ‘Go to Hell. I’ll do what I want.’”

The military order went into effect on April 13 and classifies anyone in the West Bank without proper documentation as an “infiltrator” who is subject to deportation and up to seven years in prison. It appears directed mostly toward Gazans who have relocated to the West Bank, but it could also affect Jordanians who have married Palestinians and never received official residency or are living and working in the West Bank for other reasons.

When a Palestinian moves from Gaza to the West Bank, they’re required to officially update their address for government records. Some people living in the West Bank are officially registered at a Gaza address, which Israel can use as grounds to deport them. In some instances, Palestinians register their change of address with Palestinian authorities, but Israeli officials do not update their information.

So far there have been only a handful of Palestinians deported from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip, but it remains unclear if these deportations happened under the authority of the new order or another regulation.

The order could also affect Jordanians who have married Palestinians and never received official residency or are living and working in the West Bank for other reasons.

While many human rights groups say it is difficult to determine exactly how many people may be affected by the order, some analysts have estimated that up to 70,000 Palestinians could be at risk of deportation. The military order, however, is so vague that human rights groups say that almost anyone in the West Bank could theoretically face forced removal from their homes.

There is some concern about the “immediate effect of this order, but we think that its effects can be spread out over 10 years. Maybe it won’t be that dramatic in the headlines, but the thing is that every person in the West Bank is currently at risk of criminal charges and deportation,” said Elad Cahana, an attorney for HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual, an Israeli human rights organization. “Even if the military is kind-hearted, and says that it’s not going to use it this is a problem because the order gives them the possibility to do so. Policies change, military commanders change, but the order will still remain the same.”

With over half the population of Jordan already composed of Palestinians, many in the country are concerned about increasing the number of Palestinians any further. While Jordan remains one of the most stable countries in the region, there exist underlying tensions between Jordanians and those of Palestinian origin who live in the Kingdom.

“[Israeli politicians] want to create a problem between Palestinians and Jordanians, to shift the attention from what they are doing in Jerusalem and the Occupied Territories, but this will not happen at all,” said Oraib al-Rantawi, director of the Al-Quds Center for Political Studies in Amman. “Sometimes they are testing the water. If it’s possible to do something, they will do it. If they face a serious objection they will freeze it.”

Last summer, without first consulting Jordan, a sizable minority in Israel’s Knesset voted in favor of a bill that would establish the Kingdom as the official homeland of Palestinians. Many officials in Jordan wanted to break diplomatic ties with Israel after the incident. The new military order has raised concerns that Israel may be subtly working in that direction again.

“I would be very hesitant to back the claim that there is a fear of a wave of deportations to Jordan,” said Sarit Michaeli, spokesperson for B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights group. “The point is that Israel still considers Palestinians who live in the West Bank, some of whom are in areas that are under the complete control of the Palestinian Authority, as people who are forced to hold a valid visitor’s permit on its behalf.”

While Israel may deport some in the West Bank to Gaza, Rantawi said it may face a hard time sending Palestinians to Jordan without the kingdom’s consent.

“They cannot just put them in a truck and take them to Jordan and Jordan will open the doors and that’s it,” he said. “Jordan is a free country and it has the right to defend itself and to not accept any of those deported people and return them back to Israel. Nobody can make you accept a new wave of refugees in your country without your political will.”