Israel on Sunday deported a Palestinian lawyer and activist to France after claiming he has ties to a banned militant group, drawing a rare condemnation from the French government.
The expulsion of Salah Hammouri underscored the fragile status of Palestinians in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, where most hold revocable residency rights but are not Israeli citizens. It also worsened a brewing diplomatic spat with France, which had repeatedly appealed to Israel not to carry out the expulsion.
“I’m happy to announce that justice was served today and the terrorist Salah Hammouri was deported from Israel,” Israel’s interior minister, Ayelet Shaked, announced in a videotaped statement early Sunday. The expulsion capped months of legal wrangling.
Hammouri, who was born in Jerusalem but holds French citizenship, landed in Paris just before 10 a.m. local time. Wearing a black track suit and black and white keffiyeh, or Palestinian headscarf, around his neck, he was greeted by his wife and a group of supporters.
Some hugged him, and others clapped in support.
Speaking to reporters, Hammouri accused Israel of “ethnic cleansing” and said his deportation was meant “to show the generations that nobody can resist Israel.” He vowed to fight the order.
“I will continue my right to resist against this occupation until I have the right to go back to my country,” he said.
Israel says Hammouri is an activist in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a group that it has labeled a terrorist organization. He has worked as a lawyer for Adameer, a rights group that assists Palestinian prisoners that Israel has banned for alleged ties to the PFLP.
He spent seven years in prison after being convicted in an alleged plot to kill a prominent rabbi but was released in a 2011 prisoner swap with the Hamas militant group. He was not charged or convicted in the latest proceedings against him.
Israel, however, claimed he continued his activities with the banned group, stripped him of residency, and placed him last March in administrative detention — a status that allows Israel to hold suspected militants for months at a time without charging them or putting them on trial.
Shaked ordered the deportation when his detention order expired. Israel’s Supreme Court had rejected an appeal against the decision to revoke Hammouri’s residency status. His lawyers have complained that the decision was based on secret evidence they were not allowed to see.
France’s Foreign Ministry condemned Israel’s deportation of Hammouri after he landed in Paris, saying it has “taken full action, including at the highest level of the state, to ensure that Mr. Salah Hamouri’s rights are respected, that he benefits from all legal remedies and that he can lead a normal life in Jerusalem, where he was born, resides and wishes to live.”
It was not clear what, if any, steps the French government might take.
The Israeli human rights group HaMoked, which had defended Hammouri, condemned Sunday’s expulsion. A Jan. 1 hearing on the matter had been scheduled, and it was not immediately clear how Israel was able to push ahead with the deportation.
“Deporting a Palestinian from their homeland for breach of allegiance to the state of Israel is a dangerous precedent and a gross violation of basic rights,” said the group’s director, Jessica Montell. “HaMoked will continue to fight against this unconstitutional law.”
Last year, Hammouri was among six human rights activists whose mobile phones were found by independent security researchers to have been infected with spyware made by the Israeli company NSO Group.
It was not known who placed the spyware on the phones. Israel said there’s no connection between the terror designation of Adameer and five other Palestinian rights groups and any alleged use of NSO spyware. Israel has provided little evidence publicly to support the terrorism designation, which Palestinian groups say is meant to muzzle them and dry up their sources of funding.
Shaked, a member of a small nationalist party, failed to win re-election to parliament in elections last month.
Aryeh Deri, who is expected to to assume the post in the new government, said Hammouri’s deportation was “the end of a long but just legal process” and congratulated Shaked for carrying it out.
The new government is still being formed by designated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It will have to pass special legislation to allow Deri to serve as a minister because of his recent conviction on tax offenses.
Israel captured east Jerusalem, home to the city’s most important religious sites, in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed the area in a move that is not internationally recognized. It considers the entire city to be its capital, while the Palestinians claim east Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.
While Jews in the city are entitled to automatic citizenship, Palestinians are granted residency status. This allows them freedom of movement, the ability to work and access to Israeli social services, but they are not allowed to vote in national elections. Residency rights can be stripped if a Palestinian is found to live outside the city for an extended period or in certain security cases.
Palestinians can apply for citizenship. But few do, not wanting to be seen as accepting what they see as an occupation. Those who do apply, however, face a lengthy and bureaucratic process.
The Haaretz daily reported this year that fewer than 20,000 Palestinians in Jerusalem, some 5% of the population, hold Israeli citizenship, and that just 34% of applications are approved. It cited information from the Interior Ministry delivered by Shaked to a parliamentary inquiry.