Eli Yishai 311.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
On Tuesday – one day after the Knesset passed a law authorizing the revocation
of citizenship from people convicted of crimes against the state – a group of
bereaved families sent a letter to interior Minister Eli Yishai asking that he
apply the new law.
The families, who lost their loved ones in a Haifa
suicide bus-bombing in 2003, asked Yishai to revoke the citizenship of Munir
Rajbi, who was convicted of assisting an enemy in war, and sentenced to a life
Rajbi was part of a Hamas cell from Hebron. His brother drove
the bomber to the location of the explosion.
“We turn to you, the
Interior Minister, demanding that you immediately instruct the court to revoke
the citizenship of Munir Rajbi,” the letter stated. “This ungodly person is
responsible for the murder of 17 Israelis, nine of them teenagers who were on
their way home from school. The state must revoke his citizenship at once and
withdraw his rights as an Israeli citizen. This act will add to the public’s
protection and the state’s deterrence in the face of those who live among us and
seek our demise.”
Yossi Tzur, who lost his 17-year-old son, Assaf, in the
bombing, said that the families were involved in Rajbi’s legal proceedings since
the beginning of the police investigation against him, following the
Tzur said Rajbi had known about the bombing in advance, and had
provided intelligence to the cell’s members in Hebron.
“He had lived in
Haifa for 15 years and used his knowledge of the city to help the bombers choose
the most effective route to attack,” said Tzur.
Tzur said that once the
new law was passed, the families immediately wanted it enforced against
The law, sponsored by Israel Beiteinu MKs David Rotem and Robert
Ilatov, is a diluted version of an earlier bill submitted to the previous
Knesset, and aims to add punishment to Israelis who were involved in crimes of
terrorism, espionage, aiding an enemy and treason.
Upon its passing
(37-10), Rotem said: “Anyone who betrays the country or commits an act of
terrorism against its citizens, will know that citizenship and loyalty go
Israel Beiteinu Chairman, Foreign Minister Avigdor
Lieberman, said that “Any person who harms the country cannot enjoy the benefits
of citizenship and its fruit. The law will help confront the phenomenon by which
there are those who take advantage of our democracy in order to undermine it,
and by which those who are called citizens collaborate with the
What remains far from certain, however, is whether the law
applies to Rajbi.
The law, an amendment to the Citizenship Law enacted in
1952, states that the court can revoke the citizenship of a person convicted of
acts of terror at the request of the Interior Minister – provided that the
person does not remain without citizenship altogether. If the person has no
other citizenship, then the court must instruct the Minister to grant him a
Even before the new law was passed, the Interior
Minister had the power to revoke a person’s citizenship for state treason,
subject to the Attorney General’s approval. However, the authority has seldom
been used, and has never been challenged in court.
According to Oded
Feller, legal counsel for the Association of Civil Rights, the penalty of
revoking citizenship can only be applied as part of a criminal legal proceeding,
and not as an independent action. He said that since Rajbi had already been
convicted and sentenced, it is impossible to request the court to revoke his
citizenship as well.
The Association was against the bill from the start,
arguing that revoking citizenship is too extreme an act for the state to take.
It claimed that there were sufficient penalties already in existence in the
penal code to the same offenses, and that revoking citizenship is a “primitive
Yishai has yet to respond to the families’ letter. His
communications advisor told The Jerusalem Post that the Minister had received
the letter and transferred it over to the Ministry’s legal counsel for
examination, before proceeding.
The amendment’s co-sponsor, Robert
Ilatov, said “the law cannot be enacted retroactively, so as to apply to Rajbi.
In order to do so, further amendments to the law would be required.”
said “Rajbi is currently serving a life sentence in prison. We hope that his
sentence is not shortened and that he will never go free. If he does go free, we
think he should be deported to Gaza or the West Bank or Lebanon. There is no
reason that he will enjoy the benefits provided by the state, when he chose to
join those who are our enemies.”