Israeli Military Order Targets West Bank 'Infiltrators' Thousands of Palestinians could be deported under a new and controversial order put in place in April by the Israeli army, human rights groups in Israel say. But Israeli officials say the new rule will not result in mass deportations. Many Palestinians have gone into hiding to avoid being picked up by Israeli authorities.
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Israeli Military Order Targets West Bank 'Infiltrators'

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Israeli Military Order Targets West Bank 'Infiltrators'

Israeli Military Order Targets West Bank 'Infiltrators'

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In the Middle East, Israel's military has issued an order directed against people in the occupied West Bank who don't have Israeli permission to be there. Human rights groups say the rule could lead to the deportation of thousands of Palestinians. Some Palestinians who fear they could be targets of the new decree have gone into hiding, as NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports from the West Bank city of Ramallah.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Umm Qusay rarely leaves her house. When she does, she doesn't move past the confines of the narrow street she lives on.

Ms. UMM QUSAY: (Through translator): I'm extremely afraid. I'm terrified. I'm worried about being separated from my children.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: She's been driven, she says, to this cloistered life by the new Israeli army order that she fears could have her jailed or deported.

Umm Qusay was born in the West Bank city of Jericho, but she grew up in Jordan. She married a Palestinian resident of Ramallah 10 years ago. She had two children. But she stayed in Jordan because Israeli authorities would not grant her residency papers to live with her husband in the West Bank.

A few months ago she was given a visitor's visa. To remain with her family, she has overstayed it because she says it's the only way they can be together.

Ms. UMM QUSAY: (Through translator): After 10 years of being separated, I came back to my husband's home town. And now we are again in a difficult situation. Where do I go from here?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The new rule defines anyone not holding an Israeli-issued permit to reside in the West Bank as an infiltrator. Violators can face up to seven years in prison or deportation. Human rights groups here say they are worried about the broad wording in the new order.

They say it could be used to target three groups: Palestinians who have residency papers from the Gaza Strip but who live in the West Bank, foreigners working or visiting the Palestinian territories who overstay their visas, and the foreign-born spouses of Palestinians.

In an interview with NPR, the Israeli military spokeswoman says the order simply amends existing Israeli regulations.

Lieutenant Colonel AVITAL LEIBOVICH (Israeli Military Spokesperson): The amendment to this law actually helps the Palestinians or the other illegal residents that are here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich says the new rule provides a military judicial review before anyone is deported or jailed. She dismisses concerns over the wording.

Lt. Col. AVITAL LEIBOVICH: The wording is less relevant. The relevance here is that the Palestinians or the illegal residents actually have another monitoring step before the repatriation begins. There is a committee of judges which is reviewing the material and deciding whether to begin with the process of repatriation or not.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Colonel Leibovich says there have been few deportations - only 10 this year - and the newly amended order won't change that.

But that hasn't stopped people like Umm Qusay from keeping a low profile. Sari Bashi is with the Israeli human rights group Gisha.

Ms. SARI BASHI (Gisha): Since the order was released, tens of thousands of people in the West Bank have gone into hiding, afraid to leave their homes, afraid to leave their areas of residence for fear of being arrested at a checkpoint and deported or put in prison for up to seven years. This is tearing at the fabric of civil society in Palestine, because they're afraid an Israeli soldier will arrest them for not having the right documentation, and Israel refuses to issue them the right documentation.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Palestinian Authority spokesman Ghassan Khatib says the new military order contravenes international law and previous agreements between Israel and the Palestinians.

Mr. GHASSAN KHATIB (Palestinian Authority Spokesperson): We are alarmed because of the possible practical consequences of this. It will affect the human rights of the Palestinian people. It will affect the right of Palestinians to live in Palestine.

Ms. QUSAY: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Umm Qusay says the wider implications don't matter to her. After waiting 10 years to join her husband in the West Bank, she just wants to be able to stay here.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News.

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