Jerusalem: Israel is invoking an arcane military law to try to temporarily expel a Palestinian protest leader from his native east Jerusalem and if successful, Palestinians warn the measure could further hobble efforts to salvage moribund peace process.
Adnan Gheith, a 35-year-old local leader of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas` moderate Fatah movement, says he has been in and out of Israeli jails over the past two decades for demonstrating against the occupation of Palestinian territory. He claims Israel is trying to punish him for those protests.
Israel`s Defence Ministry says Gheith is a menace to public order and last month ordered him out of the city for four months.
The order appears to be part of a wider Israeli crackdown on opponents of its policies toward the Palestinians. But what makes this case exceptional is that the military is invoking an obscure emergency regulation to expel a Jerusalemite from the city. The law goes back to British rule before Israel`s establishment in 1948 and hasn`t been used for decades.
So far, Gheith has managed to stave off the expulsion with an appeal. But human rights groups have expressed concern that Israel could widen the use of the emergency regulation against others.
Gheith says he has no intention of complying with the order.
"There is only one way they can carry out their decision: to deport me by force," he said.
Gheith has protested against 350 Israeli settlers living in heavily guarded enclaves in his overwhelmingly Arab neighbourhood of Silwan, just south of Jerusalem`s Old City. Demonstrations in Silwan often turn violent, with Israeli police firing tear gas and stun grenades to disperse rock-throwing Palestinian youths.
Gheith is also a leading opponent of Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat`s plan to raze 22 Palestinian homes in another neighbourhood to make way for an Israeli tourist centre. That plan is on hold.
"They are trying to make look it like I am the one threatening the security, as if saying no to oppression and to house demolitions is an assault," he said. "Whatever they do to stop me, I will keep talking."
The Israel military said it ordered his expulsion after a top commander received "information of a security and intelligence nature that tied Mr Adnan Gheith to operations that relate to the disrupting of public peace in Jerusalem."
East Jerusalem, home to the most important Muslim, Jewish and Christian shrines in the Holy Land, lies at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel annexed it to its declared capital after the 1967 war in a move that was never internationally recognised. The Palestinians want east Jerusalem as the capital of a future state, and the conflicting claims have derailed past peace efforts and sparked bouts of violence.