Police evict sun-bathing Palestinian families

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The Independent Online

Their chief crime is having gone in search of pleasure. They arrive by the thousands, eager to forget the overcrowding and squalor of the refugee camps to which they were born.

Their chief crime is having gone in search of pleasure. They arrive by the thousands, eager to forget the overcrowding and squalor of the refugee camps to which they were born.

Their aim is merely to relax in the sunshine just a few miles away, outside the borders of their own small world. So they come to the Mediterannean beaches of Tel Aviv, to imbibe a little of the good life - to have a game of football with the kids, an ice cream, a dip in the warm summer waters.

But the appearance of so many Palestinians enjoying themselves outside the boundaries of Yasser Arafat's incomplete fiefdom in which they live, and within the borders of Israel proper, has proved too much for Tel Aviv authorities.

Every Friday, for the past three weeks, thousands of Palestinians - many of them youngsters - have been rounded up by the police for having slipped into the country on the Arabs' equivalent of Sunday.

Last week, Israel's Ma'ariv newspaper said that 1,200 Palestinians were returned to border crossings, having entered Israel without the requisite permits. Ten Israeli bus drivers, who had brought them into the country, were arrested.

Yesterday, the Israel cops were at it again, escorting people home to Gaza on a brilliant June morning. Last month, the head of Tel Aviv police reportedly described the Palestinians as a security threat.

Human rights groups say the "banishment" of the Palestinians amounts to persecution. Entering Israel without a permit - which takes several days to acquire - is illegal. But they say many Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank work daily in Israel, and cannot bedescribed as a security risk.

Rhys Johnson, assistant director of LAW, the Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment, disagreed. "A cleaner way of dealing with this would be at the border check points. Beaches are not places for hunting people down."

Israeli commentators have not been unanimously supportive of their authorities. The issue came to a climax last month on Israel's Independence Day, when many Israelis celebrated the anniversary of their nation's creation by holding barbeques in parks, leading to pressure on the police to act.

Immediately afterwards an ironic article appeared in Ha'aretz under the headline "All They Wanted Was a Dip in the Sea". Meron Benvenisti wrote: "They have no business using our crowded beaches. And what sensible Israeli would want to be in the proximity of Arabs anyway? Of course, the reason for that attitude has nothing to do with racism (perish the thought!). No, the only reason is the 'security threat'."

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