JERUSALEM // Israel's refusal to renew the expired residency papers of at least 240,000 Palestinians from the Gaza Strip and West Bank between 1967 and 1994 came under attack from a leading Palestinian politician yesterday.
Between the Arab-Israeli war in 1967 and the establishment 27 years later of the Palestinian Authority (PA), Israel stripped some 100,000 Gazans of their residency rights, according to classified Israeli government documents recently released under the state's freedom of information laws.
Government documents released last year showed that the residency rights of some 140,000 West Bankers were revoked during the same period.
The result in both cases was a smaller than expected population growth among Palestinians and what Mustafa Barghouti, a former presidential candidate, yesterday called "an act of slow, quiet ethnic cleansing" aimed at pressuring Palestinians to leave the territories.
"If you combine this with settlement expansion, it's a policy that could not have been continued without the tolerance of the international community to these blatant, clear violations of international law," Mr Barghouti said in Ramallah.
The newly released documents came from the office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), part of Israel's defence ministry, and were obtained in response to a freedom of information request by the Jerusalem-based Hamoked Centre for the Defence of the Individual. The Israeli daily Haaretz reported the figures yesterday.
COGAT revealed that 44,730 Gazans had their residencies revoked because they spent more than seven years outside of the territory. Another 54,730 people in the territory lost their residency because they did not respond to a census in 1981. And 7,249 Gazans lost theirs because they did not respond to a 1988 census.
Under the procedure that was in place during the 27-year period, those Palestinians who wanted to travel abroad were required to leave their identification papers with Israeli authorities. In return, they were issued a card allowing them to move in and out of the West Bank or the Gaza Strip for three years. The card could be renewed for an additional year.
If the card holder failed to return home within six months of the document's expiration, his residency rights were revoked by Israeli authorities.
Following the disclosure of the West Bank document revocations last year, the chief Palestinian peace negotiator, Saeb Erekat, accused Israel of "war crimes". His brothers had their residencies revoked and settled in California, he said.
Hamoked's legal director, Ido Blum, said yesterday that the data obtained from COGAT on Gaza and the West Bank suggests a policy of "mass deportation", which he called a "clear violation" of Israel's obligations as an occupying power over the territories. Israel could not justify so many revocations on security grounds because Israel appeared to revoke them at "random", he added.
A spokesperson for Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, declined to comment on the practice. A COGAT spokesperson also was not available for comment. The agency told Hamoked in a letter, however, that a number of people had their residency rights restored, although it could specify how many, citing a lack of resources to compile the figures, Haaretz reported.
Mr Blum said the number of people still barred form the territories could be in the hundreds of thousands. Many of those affected were students and young professionals at the time who had since started families.
"It's important to state that this is an ongoing problem," he said. "This quarter of a million people and their families are still living in exile, still without their residency and are prevented from going back to the occupied territories."