Israel on Wednesday rejected a U.N. Security Council condemnation of its plans to expel nine Palestinians and expressed "regret and disappointment" that the United States had, for the first time in five years, joined in an anti-Israeli U.N. resolution.
The carefully worded reaction came just a few hours after the Security Council, in a late-night vote in New York, unanimously called on Israel to drop expulsion proceedings that it began Sunday against four residents of the Gaza Strip and five residents of the West Bank--territories that Israel captured in the 1967 Six-Day War.
It also coincided with the opening in Gaza of a military review process that a Palestinian human rights group assailed Wednesday as part of a judicial "charade" intended to give the expulsions the appearance of due process.
Acting in the midst of unprecedented unrest in the territories, Israel accused the nine Palestinians of "incitement and subversive activity on behalf of the terrorist organizations." It said it has served them with deportation orders under provisions of a 1945 "emergency regulation" held over from the period when Britain ruled the area under a mandate from the defunct League of Nations.
In voting for the Security Council resolution Tuesday, Herbert S. Okun, the deputy U.S. representative to the United Nations, reiterated Washington's contention that the expulsions are illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, which is intended to protect civilians under military occupation.
Okun also asserted that the expulsions are unnecessary to maintain order and that they "serve to increase tension rather than contribute to the creation of a political atmosphere conducive to reconciliation and negotiation."
Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states: "Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the occupying power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive."
In an official reaction to the Security Council vote, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Ehud Gol charged Wednesday that the resolution "contributes neither to the re-establishment of normal and peaceful life to the residents of the territories nor to the advance of the peace process."
Gol said that Israel considers itself responsible "for matters concerning the territories and for the safeguarding of the security of its inhabitants," adding that it "takes great care that international law and those laws which apply to the territories are fully preserved."
Gol added: "Israel expresses its regret and disappointment over the fact that the United States, as a close friend of Israel, has joined in this resolution."
A government source said Israel was compelled to speak out against the U.S. criticism, but, on the other hand, "wouldn't like to have too big a breach with the (United) States." The source said Israel's statement was "formulated very carefully, without harsh words. I mean, 'regret' and 'disappointment' is the least you can say when you think a friend let you down."
(In Washington, State Department spokesman Charles Redman insisted on the U.S. right to vote against human rights violations committed by friend or foe, but he added that "from our side . . . we have confidence that these relations (with Israel) remain strong."
("We have the capability with the Israeli government to discuss these issues, whether or not we disagree--to be candid and discuss them, and that's what we have done in this case," he said, news agencies reported.)
But earlier, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said: "I regret very much this vote. I see this as a breach and a severe deviation in our relationship with the United States."
The vote was the first by the United States against Israel since Sept. 17, 1982, when Washington joined in a U.N. condemnation of the Israeli siege of Beirut.
Wire services had incorrectly reported Tuesday that the last such U.S. vote was in 1981.
The highly technical arguments over the legality of Israel's policy of deporting Palestinians from the occupied territories have little practical meaning for the individuals involved. Israel has deported about 1,200 individuals from the territories since capturing them in 1967. But the arguments are important in terms of Israel's international image in the fields of legal and human rights.
Israel argues that individual deportations in order to maintain security are allowed by both the law in force in the territories and international law.
The emergency British regulations were introduced during a period of growing unrest in Palestine, and the power of deportation they bestowed was used against both Arabs and Jews, including Israel's current prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir.
Israel contends that the regulations were never explicitly abrogated after the 1947-48 Arab-Israeli War and the declaration of Israeli independence, when Jordan took control of the West Bank and Egypt administered the Gaza Strip.
When Israel took over in 1967, it argues, it left the existing legislations in force, as required of an occupying power by international law.
Israel argues that the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the territories is unclear, due to the "questionable sovereignty of Jordan and Egypt over these territories prior to their coming under Israeli control in 1967." While Jordan formally annexed the West Bank after the 1947-48 war, only two countries recognized its action. And Egypt never annexed Gaza.
That argument aside, Israel has committed itself to applying the humanitarian provisions of the Geneva Convention in the territories. But it contends that Article 49 of the convention was drafted to protect against mass deportations and is therefore not applicable. It cites various legal opinions to back that view, including that of its own High Court of Justice.
Also, according to a senior government legal adviser, common sense is on Israel's side. "Under the Geneva Convention, capital punishment is perfectly legal," the adviser noted. "It would therefore be a strange interpretation of the Geneva Convention to say that it's fine to hang an offender but strictly prohibited to deport him a few miles from one village to another. This is particularly true when he is a citizen of the country to where he is sent, as is the case" with West Bank people who are deported to Jordan.
Attorneys for Law in the Service of Man (Al Haq), the West Bank affiliate of the International Commission of Jurists, took issue with the government's legal defense of deportations at a press conference Wednesday.
Al Haq co-founder Jonathan Kuttab argued that the British emergency regulations under which Israel is acting were abrogated by London one day before it relinquished its mandate in Palestine. But since it was impossible, due to the war, to publish locally the British law abrogating the regulations, Israel considers it a "hidden law" that never went into effect.
Furthermore, according to Kuttab, Jordan implicitly rejected the emergency regulations when it passed a constitution in 1952 specifically outlawing deportation as a punishment. Therefore, he maintained, Israel's argument that it is only acting under the laws that it inherited is at best misleading.
As for international law, Kuttab contended that the Fourth Geneva Convention speaks for itself when it specifically refers to "individual or mass . . . deportations."
Violation of Due Process
Kuttab said that deportations are also a clear violation of due process.
"There is no charge sheet; there are no specific accusations that need to be answered; there is no evidence that is brought and debated in a court of law. . . . It is an administrative decision."
The quasi-judicial military committees like the one that opened in Gaza on Wednesday review deportation orders but do not function like an appellate court. Evidence upon which the orders are issued is routinely kept secret both from the defendant and his lawyer.
Similarly, Kuttab noted, Israel's High Court of Justice may review procedures, but it "has stated again and again that it does not substitute its judgments for that of the military commander" who orders the deportation.
Israel's High Court of Justice has never overturned an expulsion order, and in the only known case where it recommended that such an order be reviewed, the government rejected its advice.
"The whole exercise lacks legality and is in fact more of a charade," Kuttab charged. As a result, he said, it is a "painful decision" for the deportees whether or not "to participate in an exercise they believe is a charade."
The only thing they can do, he said, is delay what he called "the inevitable outcome of the proceedings."
At least seven of the nine Palestinians served deportation orders Sunday have already appealed, Kuttab added.
As a matter of policy, Israel has refused to say where it intends to deport the nine. However, Radio Israel reported Wednesday that Cyprus has joined Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria in saying that it will not accept the deportees. The announcements complicate Israel's problem, since to secretly dump the men in a country that would then make a show of trying to return them would be a public relations disaster.
While the turmoil in Lebanon is so great that the government in Beirut could probably do little to stop Israel from deporting the nine there, such a move would expose Jerusalem to criticism for endangering the lives of the Palestinians.