Who is a Jerusalemite?
by Dan Leon
As this article from yesterday's Jerusalem Post details, Israel is demonstrating in Jerusalem that ethnic cleansing need not involve tanks and bombs. But these devised legalities provide weapons that are every bit as effective toward that end as is physical violence.
(February 17) - In an effort to convey the absurdity of Israeli residency laws and regulations for Palestinian Jerusalemites, Attorney Leah Tsemel declared: "If Bibi Netanyahu was a Palestinian, his 12-year stay in the US would have annulled his residency rights in Jerusalem." According to the Israeli regulations for Palestinians in Jerusalem, these rights are lost after seven years abroad. The difference is that Netanyahu is a citizen, whereas since 1967, nearly all Palestinian Jerusalemites, having rejected the option of Israeli citizenship, only have blue ID cards with the status of "permanent resident" according to the law of Entry into Israel (1952), and Entry into Israel regulations (1974).
The language sounds odd, since these 160,000 Palestinian Jerusalemites didn't "enter Israel," but were born and/or bred in the city, often going back many generations. Up to 1995, reentry visas were issued to Palestinian East Jerusalemites living abroad (including the West Bank), valid for one to three years. Since 1994, the Ministry of Interior, basing itself on a High Court decision, has demanded proof that Jerusalem is the applicant's "center of life" as a condition in all family reunification cases.
Research by the Center for the Defense of the Individual raises fears that the forms proving "center of life" require a near-impossible degree of documentation. Unable to build in Jerusalem because most of their land was expropriated from 1967, Palestinians were compelled by the housing shortage to move into the outskirts of Jerusalem, which are outside the municipal borders (places like Abu Dis, Al-Azariya and Al-Ram). Now, to remain Jerusalemites, these same people would need to prove that they work, educate their children etc. ("center of life") in that same Jerusalem where they couldn't find a place to live.
The Jerusalem weekly Kol Ha'ir estimates that present policies could lead to the withdrawal of at least half of the present number of Palestinian Jerusalem ID cards. Palestinian leader Faisal Husseini puts the number already revoked at over 1,000. Another absurdity: With the family reunification work frozen because of the 1995 investigation of bribery and corruption in the the Jerusalem branch of the Ministry of the Interior, 10,000 Jerusalem reunification requests remain unattended, without the applicants being informed.
Who is a Jerusalemite? Interviewed in Orient House, Husseini doesn't conceal his bitter resentment against policies "which treat us as foreigners in our own capital. When we tried to build in Jerusalem, our houses were demolished. So we went to live in the outskirts." Now the status of these Palestinian Jerusalemites is jeopardized. We will defend them, come what may. Husseini sees Israeli policies toward Palestinian Jerusalemites as a blatant contradiction of the Oslo Accords. When the subject of Jerusalem (and not only East Jerusalem, he stresses) was held over for the final status negotiations, unilateral action on the issue was forbidden.
"If the Israelis force our hand through taking our land and our ID cards, we will mobilize public opinion in the Arab world and in the international community in our defense," he says. "Without assuring the rights of the Palestinian population of Jerusalem, the whole peace process is endangered."
These rights are not only political. They touch on family reunification, but also on the registration of babies, the ability to work in Jerusalem the closure, education, National Insurance payments involving areas like health and pensions, travel abroad, and provision, at age 16, of ID cards for children. The authorities have been understandably reluctant to provide figures for the number of IDs revoked according to the new policies, which human rights organizations call "quiet transfer." However, the Ministry of the Interior finally succumbed to pressure and agreed, at the end of January 1997, to give some of the figures, as long as the work involved is paid for. Officials dealing with the subject dismiss accusations of discrimination, claiming that everything is in order.
In reply, Ms. Kathleen Riley from the US Consulate in Jerusalem said, "Its like you tell your neighbor to stop beating his dog, and he simply claims he doesn't have a dog at all.
(The author is co-managing editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal.)