Silently Stealing Jerusalem

The number is staggering, to say the least. A total of 4,577 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem were stripped of their residency rights in 2008 alone, 35 percent of all east Jerusalemites who lost their residency rights since 1967 and more than any average year since Israel’s occupation of the eastern sector of the city almost 42 years ago. For the less versed in the ways of Israel where Palestinian residency rights in Jerusalem are concerned, here is a quick rundown. Upon Israel’s occupation in 1967 of east Jerusalem, those Palestinians who had stayed in their homes were included in Israel’s census of the city and granted "permanent residency". This, by no means is citizenship, which Israel also duly offered to the war torn residents of the even more war torn neighborhoods of Jerusalem. But taking on Israeli citizenship was, for most Palestinians, tantamount to high treason, given that they would assume the nationality of the country that had usurped most of their homeland and made hundreds of thousands of their fellow Palestinians refugees either outside the borders of Palestine or within it. Not to mention that one condition for citizenship was to swear allegiance to Israel.

Since then, the majority of Jerusalem’s Palestinians have lived the precarious existence of permanent residents. Falling short of a full-fledged citizen, Israeli authorities impose strict conditions for Jerusalemites to maintain this residency. As the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem writes, "Israel treats Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem as immigrants who live in their homes at the beneficence of the authorities and not by right."

According to Israeli interior ministry sources, the majority of Jerusalem residents whose residency rights have been revoked were living abroad, which according to Israeli "law" is illegal. Palestinians, of course, see it in a different light altogether. Following the 1995 legislation to impose the "center of life" policy on Jerusalem residents, more and more Jerusalemites are finding that their blue ID card was no longer valid. The center of life policy is draconian in nature and is aimed at making it as difficult as possible for Palestinians to remain in their homes in Jerusalem. It demands that Palestinians living in Jerusalem prove that every element of their lives is cemented within the boundaries of the Israeli municipal borders for Jerusalem. That is, rent, land taxes, schools, work, immunization records, phone bills and a slew of other proofs must be ready at any minute to provide as evidence of a person’s life in Jerusalem. If something doesn’t add up, this could mean bidding farewell to any rights in the city, namely the right to live in your own home.

The most obvious Israeli plot behind these measures is to rid Jerusalem of its Palestinian Arab residents, thus claiming the city as Israel’s "undivided and eternal capital." Coupled with Israel’s other oppressive measures against Palestinians such as house demolitions, land confiscation and discrimination in education and basic services, this seems like a fair assumption, especially if one is to compare east Jerusalem with its western (Israeli) counterpart. Modern roads and buildings characterize west Jerusalem, which gives off any overall air of economic prosperity whereas east Jerusalem’s dank and shabby roads and houses mirrors quite a different reflection.

Perhaps Israel is upping its policies on Palestinian residency rights with other intentions. If they cannot force all Palestinians out, either by demolishing their homes or revoking their residency cards, perhaps such measures will scare others into applying for Israeli citizenship. This, for Israel, is the best of two evils –” if they can’t force Palestinians out, they can at least shift the demographic scales in Jerusalem where even the Palestinians there are Israeli citizens, thus undistinguishing them from Israeli Jews in terms of demographic statistics. According to reports from Israel’s interior ministry itself, this is a disturbing but growing phenomenon among Palestinian Jerusalemites. According to one Israeli Interior Ministry report, up to 500 Palestinians in Jerusalem applied for Israeli citizenship in 2007.

It is not only Israel we can blame however for this trend in particular. Unfortunately, with the constant talk of dividing Jerusalem to make way for a Palestinian capital, there are those Palestinians in Jerusalem who are willing to sacrifice their duty to Palestine for their personal benefit. Taking Israeli citizenship before any final status on the city is reached would guarantee that all the benefits they enjoy such as national and health insurance would continue. Their jobs in Israel would be unthreatened and they would not have to worry about proving residency in their own homes. However, they would then become a permanent part of Israel’s establishment and would have helped to hand over Jerusalem to Jewish Israeli sovereignty first handedly.

In a roundabout way, this is in Israel’s favor, at least in Jerusalem. Inside the 1948 borders, or what is now Israel, it knows the Palestinian residents there are people who managed to remain despite the massacres, fighting and exile that occurred in 1948. Thus, they are a threat in their very existence. However, any Palestinian Jerusalemite who wishes by their own free will to trade in their permanent residency card for Israeli citizenship is hardly a threat to Israel. On the contrary, they have chosen this path rather than the much harder path of proving their Arab and Palestinian roots in the city.

Sadly, this is an extremely dangerous and slippery slope. Palestinians have been fighting an uphill battle on Jerusalem for decades, one which most of them are not willing to surrender. The past year’s numbers on residency card revocations is evidence that Israel is moving slowly but surely towards the goal of annihilating any strong Palestinian presence in the city. It is a pity when some of us help them along.