Israel Deporting Palestinian-American from West Bank
JERUSALEM (AP) _ Rejecting appeals from American officials, Israel is deporting a disabled U.S. citizen of Palestinian origin who has lived more than a decade in the occupied West Bank with his wife and five children.
Jerusalem-born Mohammed Ali Akhras, 47, is one of more than 200 American citizens who U.S. and Palestinian sources say are targets of an Israeli crackdown on Palestinians suspected of illegal residence in Israeli-held territories.
Akhras has agreed to leave by Aug. 31, ending a two-year battle with Israeli immigration authorities for overstaying a tourist visa. His wife and five children, also Americans, will leave by mid-October, after Mrs. Akhras, 37, has a gall bladder operation in a Jerusalem hospital. The couple have two other children who have been living in the United States. He’ll have to leave the home he owns here as well as cheaper living conditions. Unable to work because of his disability, he lives on a monthly U.S. Social Security payment of $920.
U.S. Consulate spokesman David P. Good said Consul-General Morris Draper made two appeals to the Israelis to let Akhras stay.
″We have been appealing this case a long time on humanitarian grounds,″ Good said. ″But we’ve about reached the end of the rope and don’t know what else can be done.″
Yitzhak Agassi, spokesman for the Israeli Interior Ministry, said Israel’s policy, ″like that of many countries including the United States, is that a person cannot live here without a visa.″
Palestinian attorney Jonathan Kuttab said 100 to 150 American Palestinians living in the West Bank faced deportation proceedings because of expired tourist visas.
Good said Israeli officials have confiscated U.S. passports of an additional 100 Palestinian visitors to the West Bank since June.
The United States considers passports to be U.S. government property and deems it improper for a foreign government to confiscate them. But American sources who spoke on condition of anonymity indicated the United States has not made an issue of the confiscations because it sought to avoid a full-scale diplomatic incident with Israel.
Akhras acquired American citizenship while living in New York, Chicago and Puerto Rico from 1966 to 1975. He is among many Palestinians who own homes in the West Bank, but lost residency status because they lived abroad and did not reapply within three years of Israel’s takeover of the area in the 1967 Arab- Israeli war.
Upon returning to the West Bank, Akhras was granted a three-month tourist visa, but he never renewed it, apparently fearing he would be turned down. He said he was never bothered about the visa until he traveled abroad for two months in 1984.
When Akrhas returned, the Israelis took his U.S. passport and gave him a one month visa. In April of this year, the Israeli government issued a deportation order which has been delayed apparently because of the U.S. Consulate’s intervention.
Kuttab estimated that hundreds of people like Akhras are among the 850,000 Palestinians in the West Bank who don’t bother to renew visas because they are afraid of being asked to leave.
Akhras said he ″would gladly live in America, but where? I don’t have enough money. Here I at least have a house.″
Crippled by a faulty operation for foot lesions, Akhras lives on the Social Security check he gets because of the disability which has kept him from working 12 years.
Akhras said he signed an agreement to leave the West Bank after being jailed twice in three months, once for a week and a second time for 13 days.
″I lost 25 pounds in the process, and was so nervous I just signed,″ he said.
Israeli policy is to restrict Palestinian immigration to the occupied territories. Since 1970, Palestinians have been able to return legally only with family reunification permits, which often take years to get.
The number of reunification permits declined sharply from 2,300 in 1981 to 500 in 1985, according to Israeli army figures. The army often cites security reasons for rejecting such applications.