Israel: Demand International Sanctions

Against the Current, No. 43, March/April 1993

an interview with Lea Tsemel

LEA TSEMEL is an Israeli attorney working in defense of the 415 Palestinians expelled by the Israeli occupation authorities from their homes in the West Bank and Gaza. Part of the following interview appears in the January 1993 issue of News From Within, published by the Alternative Information Center in Jerusalem. The final four questions were faxed by Against the Current. Lea Tsemel’s answers were translated from French to English by Joanna Misnik.

News From Within: What really happened on that memorable night when 415 Palestinians were being deported into Lebanon?

Lea Tsemel: There were rumors the morning before about a possible deportation, which was being executed solely to pacify public opinion which =been shaken by the kidnapping and killing of Sergeant Toledano [an Israeli border policemen killed allegedly by Islamic militants—ed.], but of course no one imagined that it would be more than a dozen individuals.

At about eight o’clock in the evening a journalist called to ask what I intended to do to stop the deportation This was the first time I had heard the number of 400 and I must confess that I didn’t believe it I immediately asked friends to contact members of the Knesset from Meretz [the left-Zionist Israeli “peace” bloc participating in the government coalition–ed.] to get additional information and to try to stop the deportations.

Yossi Sand [prominent Meretz figure–ed.] confirmed the number of 400 and refused to intervene, explaining that he had good reasons—secret, obviously —to justify such a measure. At the same time I contacted Mrs. Nili Arad from the Attorney General’s office, who refused to either confirm or deny the rumors.

I had no other choice but to appeal to a Justice of the Supreme Court His first reaction was to refuse to give a general interim order [temporary injunction—ed.] without any specific names, and so I began to contact lawyers and friends in the Occupied Territories to get me names of Hamas activists who had recently been arrested and might be among those being deported.

With the help of Attorney Andre Rosenthal, who went four times during this night to Justice Barak’s residence, obtained interim orders for those forty Palestinians whose names I had managed to collect At one o’clock in the morning Justice Barak decided to issue an interim order to stop all the deportations which were underway. This is how we were able to stop the convoy of buses a few kilometers before they reached the border.

NFW: However, in spite of all your efforts, the Supreme Court decided to cancel the interim order and to permit the operation to be carried out. Were you surprised?

LT: Even though the Fourth Geneva Convention categorically forbids any kind of deportation, the Supreme Court has always ratified the deportation orders. On the other hand the Court has always recognized the right of the deportees to appeal the orders before they were deported, and just ten years ago the Supreme Court sharply criticized the army for deporting Palestinian leaders without giving them time to appeal.

On the basis of previous precedents it was expected that the deportation would be frozen until the court could decide the legality of the deportations. The surprising and disappointing thing this time is the fact that—for the first time—the court decided by a majority vote to cancel the interim order issued that night by Justice Barak, while at the same time it ordered that a hearing be held within thirty days to determine the validity of the deportation order. [The Israeli Supreme Court upheld the expulsions’ legality on January 28, 1993–ed.]

It seems that the majority of the Justices were impressed by the testimony of the Chief of Staff, who appeared at the hearing especially to explain to the court that, even if a certain amount of injustice might be committed, to return the deportees’ and even to imprison them would be a disaster.

The fact that the highest judicial body in Israel accepted this kind of black mail is a big step backwards, and may very well leave the door open to any kind of arbitrary action in the future.

NFW: In the court you used the concept of “transfer”…

LT: During the hearing, the Legal Advisor to the Government, Mr. Harsh, had the audacity to refer to it as a “mini-deportation? If 400 people is a “mini- deportation” then how many would have to be deported in order to justify the use of the term “transfer—400,000?

NFW: The government planned to get rid of these Palestinian activists without causing a disturbance and before any protest or legal procedure could be organized. Your initiative foiled their plans. Are you proud of the role you played in this?

LT: I am not proud—I am angry. Angry because once again justice has been defeated by “security.” If the court had even postponed the deportation we could have spoken of success, but the majority of the Justices decided to act as an extension of the executive authority. Confronted with such an alliance, law and justice have no chance for success.

Against the Current: What has been the impact of the expulsions on Palestinian society?

LT: At first, the deportations provoked an unprecedented wave of anger, and a series of mass demonstrations, especially in the Gaza Strip. However, this didn’t last very long. After a week, the mobilization was pretty much over.

In everything that happened, it looked like the national leadership was hesitant to genuinely mobilize its troops on behalf of its adversaries in the Islamic movement Certain Palestinian leaders, however, did have the gall to defend “the positive result? of these deportations in interviews with the Israeli press. For example, Jack Hesmo, the editor in chief of El Bayader el Siaissi, told the Jerusalem Report in an interview he did that “this will be a lesson to Hamas.” Such a reaction is truly scandalous.

ATC: And the impact on the Israeli peace movement?

LT: The positions of the leaders of Meretz [supporting the expulsions—ed.] provoked big divisions which, over time, could bring about big changes within the Israeli left Many militants in the peace movement asked themselves how (Meretz leaders) like Shulamit Aloni or Yait Tsaban could have sanctioned such a crime These questions raised fundamental problems, such as relations between human rights and security, the legitimacy of a struggle for national liberation, etc.

One of the results of the treason of ministers and deputies from Meretz is a relative (or partial) split between the Israeli peace movement and the Palestinian currents with which it had contact I say relative, because the Palestinians have often shown that they are quite ready to forgive and forget
ATC: Do you feel these expulsions might have been a trial run to test the possibility of a mass-scale “transfer”?

LT: In fact I do not think that Rabin thought about anything at all in making this decision. Nonetheless, paradoxically, I think that one of the results of the unanimous opposition within the international community is that it is out of the question for Israel to try to do remake of 1948. International public opinion has clearly affirmed that no new transfer will be tolerated. From now on, any Israeli government will have to take this opinion into consideration if it thinks about realizing their dream of transfer.

ATC: What actions should be undertaken by supporters of Palestinian human rights abroad?

LT: The unpopularity of the deportations enables people to demand first of all international sanctions if Resolution 799 of the UN Security Council is not respected. Then, a boycott of Israel in all international bodies until the very last deportee is reunited with his family and his country. Israel should be placed under a ban by nations until it makes amends for the crime committed last month. And the only reparation possible is the return of all those deported.

March-April 1993, ATC 43