Jerusalem Arabs 1,047 Denied IDs Crucial to Residency Rights
By Barton Gellman Washington Post Foreign Service Monday, May 5 1997; Page A14
The Washington Post JERUSALEM, May 4 -- Eight months pregnant and wobbly on her feet, Qudsia Diab Manko traveled recently to Israel's Interior Ministry for what she thought would be a joyful milestone. After years of waiting, the East Jerusalem Arab had been summoned for a "positive answer" on her request for legal papers for her husband. Manko, 29, knew something had gone wrong when the permit clerk produced a form letter typed in Hebrew, which she could not read. "I asked him what was written there," recalled Manko, who was born the year after Israel captured her neighborhood from Jordan in 1967. "He said, `Everything is fine, just give me your identity card.' I gave him my ID and he gave me the paper and he said, `You, your husband and your children have 15 days to leave the country.' Then he said goodbye." Manko, whose first name means "Jerusalemite" in Arabic, is one of more than a thousand Arabs whose right to live in East Jerusalem has been revoked by Israel since last year. She learned, after trudging through the rain from office to office the next day, that she has no right to a hearing or appeal. "I am afraid to give birth because I have no papers," said Manko, who is due any day. "I don't know which hospital to go to. How will I register? How will I get a birth certificate?" The Israeli practice of stripping East Jerusalem Arabs of their legal papers, begun in the last months of the previous government and intensified since Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu came to power, is transforming those affected into illegal immigrants in the city of their birth. With 1,047 cases acknowledged by the government since last year, and thousands more family members affected in practice, the campaign has reached a scale at which it is beginning to shift the city's demographic balance. Less publicized than conflicts over Jewish home-building in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the confiscation of Jerusalem IDs looms at least as large in the popular Palestinian belief that Israel intends to impose its will instead of negotiating as promised on the holy city's future. The human rights groups B'tselem and Hamoked call the campaign a "quiet deportation," and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat told foreign diplomats in March that it amounts to "a serious ethnic cleansing campaign." Israeli officials deny a political motive. They say the East Jerusalem Arabs are losing their papers under neutral rules that apply to other nationals as well. Manko and others like her, they maintain, are forfeiting their right to live here by moving, albeit temporarily, outside Jerusalem or by acquiring residency rights in another country. Israeli Jews are not similarly affected, they said, because they are citizens and not subject to the same rules. Under U.S. and international pressure, Netanyahu said on CNN last week that he will "make it easier for those who have lost their identity cards to get them back." He has not, however, ordered a halt in the revocation of Arab ID cards or drafted legislation to do so. David Bar Illan, his director of communication, said Netanyahu wants to change the law but that "will not be an easy matter because . . . there may be members of the coalition who object to it strenuously." The man most responsible for enforcing the policy, Interior Minister Eli Suissa, is one of those. He said his ministry's goal, acting within the law, "is to prevent a flooding of Jerusalem" by Arabs and to promote "a rise in the Jewish population." "We will fight with all our power in the war over Jerusalem, whether through this law or through the building and planning law or another law," he said in an interview. "It does not matter what means I use or other ministers use." The identity cards in question, granted to East Jerusalem Arabs after Israel's victory in the 1967 Middle East War, confer the right of "permanent residence." Although falling short of citizenship, the cards entitle their holders to live and work in the city without the special permits required of other Palestinians. Confiscation of the identity cards is intended, avowedly, to effect the departure of their holders from the city. The government has not sent soldiers and trucks to enforce physical deportations, as it did in the West Bank before an international outcry stopped the practice in 1989. But the loss of legal papers makes normal life impossible and exposes those without them to the risk of random arrest. Those who remain here illegally lose their right to receive health care, to collect social insurance or to enroll their children in school. Some lose the only means they had to travel across international boundaries. Among those ordered to leave their homes in Jerusalem are 105 Arabs who hold U.S. passports or green cards, a fact that has drawn sharp but thus far fruitless protests from the United States. Kathy Riley, chief U.S. consular officer in Jerusalem, said she's had five or six meetings with the Interior Ministry. "We're asking, `Why have you changed this all of a sudden? For 30 years you haven't had this policy. Why now are you implementing this?' " At the same time it is stripping identity cards from East Jerusalem Arabs, the government has all but halted the granting of "family reunification" permits under which spouses and children of residents are allowed to join them. Interior Ministry spokeswoman Tova Elinson said, "We don't have the staff" to process the backlog of 8,000 Arab requests since 1994. During the same period, her ministry evaluated and approved 236,268 applications for citizenship for Jews or their family members abroad, according to Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics. Israel's legal argument rests on the status of "permanent resident" granted to the 66,000 Arabs it counted in a 1967 East Jerusalem census. East Jerusalem Arabs, who have since grown to number 160,000, moved freely back and forth to the West Bank, neighboring Arab countries and overseas. But beginning in 1988, Israeli governments sought and obtained authority from the Supreme Court to treat East Jerusalem Arabs, in effect, as immigrants under Israel's Law of Entry. Malka San, the Interior Ministry's legal adviser, said that the right to residency expires if permanent residents cease to live within city limits for seven years, if they obtain a legal right to live in any other country, or if other facts suggest they have shifted the "centers of their lives" elsewhere. Elinson, the Interior Ministry spokeswoman, acknowledged that perhaps "one, two or three" East Jerusalem Arabs lost their IDs before 1996. Suissa, the cabinet minister, explained the burgeoning caseload by arguing that Palestinians are trying to transfer large populations of Arabs back to Jerusalem for political reasons, "and I don't intend to help them." The records of human rights counselors do not support that claim. Most of those stripped of their papers are already living here, and they are losing their legal status after examinations, sometimes inaccurate, into their pasts. Manko, the pregnant 29-year-old, was born and raised here by a family that lived and owned property in Jerusalem for generations. In 1985 she married a cousin who did not have the right to live in Jerusalem. They lived together in Jordan under what Israel then called its "open bridges" policy. But Manko maintained her Jerusalem ID by spending two to six months a year with her parents here. In 1994, Israel began accepting applications by Jerusalem Arab women for "reunification" ID cards for their husbands. Manko and her husband returned and applied for one. They have lived here continuously since, enrolling their children in schools, paying municipal taxes and $312.73 a year for government-mandated social insurance. It was in March, three years after she returned to Jerusalem, that the Interior Ministry's decided Qudsia Manko must leave. "I was flabbergasted. I didn't know what was happening," Manko said. "When I went to the director, the words wouldn't come out. I was afraid I would start screaming. It's impossible that I would leave. This is my country, and one's country is in one's blood.