Haartz has today revealed files showing that Israel cancelled the residency of up to 140,000 Palestinians between 1967 and 1994. The paper reports that the files, obtained by the Centre for the Defence of the Individual upon filing a request under the Freedom of Information Law, show a clear procedure of removal of residency rights for Palestinians during the period. Haaretz claims the procedure was unknown to Palestinians leaving the country, often for work and study purposes abroad.

Between the occupation of the West Bank in 1967 and the Oslo Accord of 1994 those wishing to travel from the West Bank into Jordan via the Allenby Bridge were required to leave their identity cards at the border and were issued with an exit visa valid for three years. Unbeknownst to Palestinians, the Centre has claimed, those who failed to return within six months of the cards expiration would be declared NLR, or No Longer Resident, without warning, and prevented from returning to their homes.

According toe Haaretz, Maj Gen Danny Rothschild, who was coordinator of government activities in the Territories from 1991 to 1995 has said he was unaware of the procedure. ‘If even I wasn’t told of the procedure, one may infer that neither were residents of the occupied territories,’ he said.

A similar process is today in place for Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem who lose their residency rights after seven years abroad. The Centre for the Defence of the Individual has vowed to uncover what it believes to be a similar secretive procedure for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

Palestinians who emigrated from the West Bank following the establishment of the PA in 1994 retained residency rights irrespective of time spent abroad.

If the figures are correct the population of the West Bank would have been some 14% greater than the 1.05 million residents recorded in 1994. This figure does not include descendants of the individuals who were forcibly exiled.

Top Palestinian Authority official Saeb Erekat has stated that the practice amounted to war crimes by the Israeli state. “Israel’s actions violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that ‘everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country’’ he said in a statement to Heeratz.

The news will fuel criticisms that Israel has an active policy of ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from both Israel and the Occupied Territories, often carried out through bureaucratic legal procedures. Such procedures include the extensive and complex system of permits subjected solely on Palestinian property and movement abroad and across Israeli checkpoints. The system, The Centre for The Defence of The Individual claims, is designed to make life unliveable for Palestinians in the West Bank and Israel and to encourage their immigration abroad; “The policy turns Palestinians’ human rights into a privilege, dependent on the whim of army commanders and reliant on a complex and non-transparent bureaucratic system that needs to be approached time and again” the Center claims.

Israel has shown an acute sensitivity to increases in its Palestinian population in both Israel and the Occupied Territories since its foundation. The state has consistently denied the right of return for refugees who fled or were forced from their homes from 1948 onwards. Palestinian leaders have demanded that a right of return for Palestinian refugees to their homes in what is now Israel is essential to any lasting stable peace. Israeli commentators claim any such right of return would undermine the demographic status of Israel as a Jewish state.