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1992 mass deportation of Hamas members

July 23, 2009 12:50 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 28, 2009 9:46 A.M.)
By: Willy
In December 1992 Israel exiled 415 members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad from the West Bank and Gaza to southern Lebanon in what became a key event in the history of Islamic political movements in contemporary Palestine.

The event strengthened Hamas politically, and many of the exiles went on to become prominent leaders. One of the former exiles, Ismail Haniyeh, was elected prime minister in 2006.

Following the killings of six Israeli soldiers in the occupied territories, on the night of 17 December 1992, Israeli soldiers rounded up members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad and drove them to the Lebanese border.

In spite of the Israeli military’s attempt to censor news of the deportation, word leaked out, prompting human rights organizations to lodge a challenge with the Israeli High Court of Justice. After a 14-hour hearing, during which the detainees sat bound and blindfolded on buses, the court voted, five to two, to allow the deportation to proceed.

Israeli soldiers then drove the abandoned the detainees on a hilltop in an area known as Marj Az-Zuhour (Field of Flowers) in what was considered no-man’s land.

The Lebanese government refused to accept them into the country, saying they were Israel’s responsibility. Stuck in a political and geographic limbo, the Palestinians were forced to live in makeshift tents enduring the harsh winter weather.

The Israeli government later admitted that 16 of the detainees were deported by mistake, and they were allowed to return. Five others were allowed to return for health reasons.

The 415 Palestinians marked the largest single deportation by Israel since the 1967 June War. The United Nations Security Council condemned the deportations in Resolution 799, saying that Israel had violated international law and due process. Resolution 799 states that the UN:

1. Strongly condemns the action taken by Israel, the occupying Power, to deport hundreds of Palestinian civilians, and expresses its firm opposition to any such deportation by Israel;

2. Reaffirms the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 12 August 1949 to all the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967, including Jerusalem, and affirms that deportation of civilians constitutes a contravention of its obligations under the Convention;

3. Reaffirms also the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Lebanon;

4. Demands that Israel, the occupying Power, ensure the safe and immediate occupied territories of all those deported.

The Fourth Geneva Convention forbids an occupying power from deporting residents of the occupied territories. Despite this Israel has on several occasions deported additional Palestinians.

Israel claimed that the deportations were only temporary which made them legal, and that they were done out of security concerns regarding Hamas and Islamic Jihad, although they had no legal charges against any of the exiled people.

The exile threatened and briefly suspended the peace talks that were taking place between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). It damaged Israel’s image in the international community and most significantly it strengthened Hamas’s resolve and political presence in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

Palestinians were outraged over Israel’s unlawful deportation. The 415 people in exile, who included Ismail Haniyeh, the current de facto Prime Minister, and slain Hamas co-founder Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, became heroes of the Palestinian cause. Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahhar was also among them. It was during this period in exile that Hamas cultivated its relationship with the Lebanese Shi’ite political and paramilitary organization Hizbullah and Iran, two connections that helped Hamas to mature as an organization.

Israel agreed to allow the exiled Hamas and Islamic Jihad members back into Gaza and the West Bank in 1993 after negotiations with the US. The exile failed to deter Hamas, and ultimately increased its power and influence throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

***This is an entry in Ma’an’s Factbook, a series of reference pages on Palestine’s history, politics and current affairs. Search for terms by selecting “Factbook” from the popup menu on the search page.
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