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Expelling Kin of Suspects Approved

Mideast: Israeli court clears way for deportation of brother and sister who it says were shown to have aided alleged terrorist.

September 03, 2002|TRACY WILKINSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

JERUSALEM — In a potentially far-reaching case that pitted human rights against a nation's need for self-defense, Israel's highest court ruled today that the army can expel the relatives of alleged Palestinian militants.

The army, backed by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, maintained that banishing the families will deter potential suicide bombers from attacking Israelis. Human rights experts countered that targeting relatives is a form of collective punishment forbidden by international law.

Deportation is one of a number of draconian measures Israeli authorities are resorting to in their fight to crush a 23-month-old Palestinian uprising and wave of bombings and armed ambushes.

Today's case involved three Palestinians whom the military wanted to expel from their hometowns in the West Bank to the Gaza Strip because of support they allegedly gave siblings who organized or carried out terror attacks. The Gaza Strip is easier to control because, unlike the West Bank, it is fenced in; the army says no suicide bomber has ever emerged from Gaza and reached Israel.

In its ruling, the court indicated that a relative's involvement has to be clearly established. It said a brother and sister accused of aiding another brother, an alleged terrorist, can be expelled. But a third defendant, whose complicity the court said was not clearly established, cannot be deported, the court ruled.

The ruling means that the army does not have blanket power to transfer relatives of suspects from the West Bank to Gaza but must provide evidence of involvement case by case.

Government officials said they were pleased that the decision went as far as it did, but lamented that the court did not give the army a freer hand. Attorneys for the Palestinians said they were glad that actual acts, not the notion of deterrence alone, would serve as the basis for relocating relatives. Still, they said they would continue to fight any deportation of relatives.

A special nine-judge panel--enhanced from the usual three members--heard the case. Chief Justice Aharon Barak returned early from a vacation to preside, reflecting the importance attached to the matter.

In a hearing last week, Barak and other judges questioned the government's attorney, Shai Nitzan, on whether expelling the three individuals would prevent specific attacks. They also wanted to know about any concrete complicity on the relatives' part with the militancy of the suspected terrorists.

Kifah Ajouri and his sister Intisar are accused of helping their brother Ali, whom Israeli forces tracked down and killed last month. Ali was accused by Israel of dispatching two suicide bombers to a Tel Aviv neighborhood where they killed five bystanders.

Israeli government attorneys contend that Intisar sewed the explosive belts used by Ali's charges. Intisar denied the allegation, telling a military court last month that she was a pharmacy student who didn't know how to sew.

Also facing deportation was Abed Nasser Assida, who is alleged to have provided transportation to his brother Nasser, an operative with the radical Islamic organization Hamas who allegedly staged two deadly shooting sprees outside the Jewish settlement of Emmanuel. A total of 19 people were killed.

In last week's hearing, Nitzan argued that the expulsions do not violate international law. The Geneva Conventions, he said, bar the transfer of people from occupied territory to the state of the occupier or to a third country. But expulsion from one part of occupied territory--the West Bank--to another--the Gaza Strip--is permitted, he argued.

Barak asked why the three were not being put on trial, if the charges against them are so critical. Nitzan said banishment was quicker and thus served as more of a deterrent.

Attorneys for Assida and the Ajouris said the assistance they provided their brothers amounted to little more than food and the kind of shelter relatives routinely give one another.

Dalia Kerstein, director of a human rights center representing the Palestinians, said Monday that the court was under considerable political and public pressure to endorse the expulsions. Sharon and his army general staff have sold the public on the idea that the deportations will end violence, she said.

"The justices take into consideration the atmosphere," she said. "They don't want to confront everyone."

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