The Israeli judge who decided certain Arabs are predisposed to violence

Arab citizens with one parent from the occupied territories are more likely to commit acts of violence, an Israeli judge claims, in order to justify stripping the citizenship of Alaa Zayoud.

Israeli counter-terrorism police at the scene of an attack in East Jerusalem, June 16, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israeli counter-terrorism police at the scene of an attack in East Jerusalem, June 16, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

An Israeli court revoked the citizenship of an Israeli citizen on Sunday, setting the stage for a constitutional challenge to a 2008 law that allows the state to strip citizenship from anyone convicted of terrorism-related crimes. Alaa Zayoud, who was convicted of four counts of attempted murder for a 2015 vehicular and stabbing attack, will be left stateless on October 31, 2017 if the ruling is not overturned. Zayoud’s case is the first time the 2008 law has been used.

But the case of Alaa Zayoud is about more than the revocation of one person’s citizenship. It also dives head first into the myriad of statuses Israel assigns Palestinians living under its control, through which it determines what rights they have and according to which laws and standards to hold them.

In a 30-page judgment, Haifa District Court Judge Avraham Elyakim places Alaa Zayoud into a subset of Israeli citizens that was contrived by the Shin Bet; these people, he says, require more deterrence than the rest of the Israeli population. Thus he justifies the extreme step of revoking Zayoud’s citizenship.

Adopting the Shin Bet’s language, Judge Elyakim describes Zayoud, who was born in Israel to an Israeli-citizen mother and therefore automatically became an Israeli citizen at birth, as a “second-generation child of family unification.” In other words, Zayoud’s father is a Palestinian from the West Bank who was granted residency in Israel by virtue of his marriage to Zayoud’s mother.

“Intelligence gathered in interrogations of ‘second-generation children of family unification’ shows that despite being born and raised as Israeli citizens, they still retain a Palestinian identity and they see the State of Israel as an enemy state that is in conflict with their people,” Judge Elyakim wrote in his judgment, citing a Shin Bet expert opinion. By virtue of having family on both sides of the Green Line, he continued, such people are exposed to a culture that “doesn’t reject” terrorism or violence against the Israeli public.

“Under such circumstances, ‘second generation children of family unification’ live with an ‘identity tension’ between different societies. That leads to Palestinian loyalty and nationalist triggers which increase their willingness to carry out acts of terror,” Elyakim continues. Revoking citizenship as a deterrent, Elyakim says explicitly, is aimed exclusively at so-called “second-generation children of family unification” — to be used exclusively against them and to deter others within that group.

In other words, Judge Elyakim is saying that the bureaucratic process through which one parent acquires their residency determines how predisposed to violence their child will be. Therefore, we are to believe, that bureaucratic process justifies the use extraordinary punitive measures against the child, who was classified as such through no act of his own, in order to deter other members of that contrived subset of citizens from carrying out similar crimes. Elyakim goes on to admit that it is impossible to know if such deterrence works.

Illustrative photo of the Israeli Supreme Court, where two civil rights groups have said they will appeal the ruling revoking Zayoud’s citizenship. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of the Israeli Supreme Court, where two civil rights groups have said they will appeal the ruling revoking Zayoud’s citizenship. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

That subset of Israeli citizens, whom Judge Elyakim describes as living with tensions between their Israeli and Palestinian identity, is all the more contrived when one considers that 45 percent of Arab citizens self-identify as “Palestinian” or “Palestinian-Israeli,” according to a 2014 public opinion survey conducted by +972 Magazine’s Dahlia Scheindlin.

Of course there is also a larger constitutional question at stake: can stripping anybody’s citizenship ever be just?

The two civil rights organizations representing Zayoud noted that the Israeli Supreme Court, in rejecting the idea of stripping Israeli citizenship from Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin two decades ago, ruled that criminal law is the method by which serious crimes are confronted and denounced — not by revoking citizenship.

Zayoud was already tried and sentenced to 25 years in prison for his crimes, wrote Attorneys Sawsan Zaher and Oded Feller, of Adalah and the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), respectively.

Furthermore, the civil rights attorneys wrote, vowing to bring the case to Israel’s Supreme Court, “international law explicitly and unequivocally opposes the revocation of citizenship, as established in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, and the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, which Israel signed in 1961.”

In earlier arguments, Attorneys Zaher and Feller emphasized the unconstitutionality of the 2008 law that authorizes the courts to revoke citizenship for “breach of loyalty” (terrorism) — an amendment they say is being applied in a discriminatory manner against Palestinian citizens of Israel.

The Israeli Interior Ministry has committed to granting Zayoud temporary residency instead of citizenship. But the renewal of that status is far from guaranteed. The ministry has revoked the permanent residency — a status far more secure than the temporary residency promised to Zayoud — of over 14,000 Palestinians since 1967.