Tariq S. Nassar on questions of identity and citizenship among Palestinians living in the holy city.
After Israel occupied the West Bank following the 1967 War, it annexed around 70.5 square kilometers of the West Bank into the Jerusalem municipality boundary and claimed Jerusalem as an open city. The Palestinians who remained in Jerusalem were protected by International humanitarian law, since the annexation conflicted with the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council. The Israeli government at that time granted the Palestinian Jerusalemites permanent residency status and offered them the right to apply for Israeli citizenship, but Palestinians refused to apply for it.
But in the past decade the number of Palestinians acquiring Israeli citizenship has increased substantially. So why are Palestinian Jerusalemites who refused Israeli citizenship in the past now applying for it?
Palestinians with Jerusalem ID Cards
After the end of the 1967 War, Israel began building a series of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem which would make it impossible to divide Jerusalem, in the future, into one Israeli and one Palestinian capital. Today, Israeli settlements have been constructed on over one-third of East Jerusalem land, and only 13% of that annexed area was planned by the Jerusalem municipality for Palestinian construction development, much of which has already been built up but mainly without building permits.
Approximately 360,000 Palestinians have Jerusalem IDs, which means that they have permanent residency status, allowing them to live in and enter the city. The status of this permanent residency depends on the holder’s actual staying in Jerusalem and is less secure than citizenship. Since 1967, the Israeli government has treated these Jerusalemites as foreign immigrants who have freely chosen to go and work in Israel and can apply for Israeli citizenship. Until 2002, the nationality on these Jerusalem IDs was “Arab,” but that designation has been abolished since then. Now, there is no specific nationality indicated on the ID; it is simply left blank.
Palestinian children of parents with Jerusalem residency status automatically receive permanent residency and have the right to apply for Israeli citizenship without having to serve in the Israeli army. This facilitation process for Palestinian applicants could lead to an increase in opportunities for Palestinian Jerusalemites to become Israeli citizens.
Social, Economic and Political Rights
A permanent resident living in East Jerusalem has the right to benefit from Israeli health insurance and social welfare from institutions that are within the municipality boundary, which is defined only for Palestinian Jerusalemites. Moreover, these ID holders can work, buy property in Israel and pay taxes. These kinds of benefits are considered “inevitable facts,” as a previous mayor of Jerusalem, Teddy Kollek, called them.
The process of family reunification in cases of marriage between Jerusalemites and those with different citizenship — either a holder of a West Bank ID or a Palestinian refugee with a Jordanian passport — has been under strict scrutiny by the Ministry of the Interior. In 2003, the government of Israel froze all family reunifications files, including applications between Jerusalemite citizens and other residents under the “Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law” (Temporary Order). This law affected many families in Jerusalem until the reunification files were re-opened in 2005. However, the procedure was, and continues to be, administratively complicated and expensive and often requires the services of a lawyer.
Palestinians in Jerusalem with permanent residency have the right to vote in local Israeli elections but not in Israeli parliamentary elections. However, most of the Palestinians in Jerusalem do not use this political right due to a kind of social stigma in their culture and beliefs. Before 2001, these Palestinians had the right to take part in the politics of the Palestinian Authority. In 2001, the Israeli government closed the official Palestinian Authority institution in Jerusalem, and thus cut off Palestinian Jerusalemites from political life with the PA and severely limited their participation with security restrictions.
Ethno-Demographic Policy: “30% Arabs and 70% Jewish”
The Israeli urban planners in Jerusalem aimed to enlarge the municipality boundaries as much as possible by using both hidden and clear planning tools in order to weaken and segregate the Palestinian communities in Jerusalem. Their main goal revolved around trying to control the national demographics in Jerusalem. In 2004, when the Jerusalem municipality officially declared the first comprehensive master plan for Jerusalem, the “Jerusalem Master Plan 2000,” they had a clear, written ethno-demographic policy goal of keeping Jerusalem “30% Arab and 70% Jewish”. The current demographic ratio is around 40% Arabs and 60% Jewish, despite all the Israeli policies trying to keep it around 30% to 70%.
For more than 45 years, the municipality of Jerusalem has neglected to allow Arab rural villages to become dense urban areas by failing to provide them with a proper planning process or even an outline plan in some areas. The constraints of obtaining a building permit are one of the municipality policies that aim to limit the natural urban Palestinian’ expansion in East Jerusalem. This restriction often leads to illegal (unlicensed) buildings and, consequently, the eventual use of house demolition policy, another means used to dominate the Palestinian Jerusalemite population.
Another planning tool used by the Israeli government to try to ensure the 30% Arab and 70% Jewish ratio is the building of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem along with the confiscation of Palestinian land. In addition to this building and confiscating, the Israeli government has also managed to declare many areas in East Jerusalem to be national parks, thus transferring the responsibility of these lands from the municipality to the National Parks Authority (NPA), a national authority. According to the “Jerusalem Master Plan 2000,” most of the areas that were declared national parks in East Jerusalem were areas where Palestinian Jerusalemites lived and owned land.
Another tool of urban planning can be witnessed in the physical exclusion of Palestinian Jerusalemites from the West Bank by the separation barrier. The barrier is approximately 90 kilometers long and extends 14 kilometers into the West Bank. The barrier makes sure to include one of the biggest Jewish settlements as within the lines of the Jerusalem municipality boundaries, while on the other hand excluding a quarter of Palestinians who hold Jerusalem residency.
Urban planning has also caused unequal budgets between Jewish and Arab localities, which is reflected in the services, spaces, and social life of these localities. The services in Arab areas in East Jerusalem have always been insufficient in comparison to Jewish areas. Dr. Meir Margalit — a founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions — argues that “although Palestinian Jerusalemites constitute 33 percent of the city’s total population, the amount of the municipal budget invested in East Jerusalem ranges from 8.5 percent to 11.75 percent”.
Residency Restrictions for Palestinian Jerusalemites
In 1996, the Israeli Ministry of the Interior developed a new “center of life” policy which forces Palestinian residents to constantly have to prove that they reside, physically live and work, within the Jerusalem municipality boundaries. Any time these residents want to renew their IDs or travel documents, they must produce documents — for example, landline phone bills, electricity bills or property tax bills — that prove their physical residency in the city. If a Palestinian Jerusalemite is not physically living inside the Jerusalem municipality boundaries or has traveled to another country within the past seven years without going to the Ministry of the Interior, then he/she will lose Jerusalem permanent residency. The “center of life” policy doesn’t apply to residents who have chosen to become Israeli citizens.
In addition, the Israeli government has imposed restrictions on the movement of Palestinian Jerusalemites. As permanent residency holders, they cannot work outside Israeli boundaries, which prevents them from working in the West Bank. They also face difficulties moving and traveling between Jerusalem and other cities, due to the threat of harassments at checkpoints in the West Bank, Ben-Gurion Airport and any other place of border control.
The slow culmination of over 45 years of Palestinian Jerusalemites’ fear of displacement from the city of their residence and birth has created a kind of permanent refugee behavior, as they constantly fear the demolition of their houses and confiscation of their land. At the same time, the Palestinian Jerusalemites have also witnessed the massive financial corruption of the PA, which was established after the Oslo Accords in 1993. In addition, most Palestinian Jerusalemites feel a kind of disregard from the PA toward their situation and needs.
The Palestinians in Jerusalem are facing fateful decisions affecting their life and identity. They continue to live their lives with the fear of displacement, of becoming a permanent refugee, isolated from their families in the West Bank, or fearful of being expelled into the West Bank and losing the right to enter and live in Jerusalem. An option that remains is for Palestinians to apply for Israeli citizenship, which would allow them to live anywhere without the fear of losing their right to enter and live in Jerusalem.
After 45 years of Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, most of the current residents are of the new generation — 45 years old or younger. Most of this generation has lost hope in the PA, and questions whether it still adheres to the vision of East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. They see Jerusalem as a unified city that will not be divided, and these beliefs have been reinforced by the building of the separation barrier around Jerusalem.
In the past decade, there has been a new trend spreading quietly throughout Jerusalem. Palestinians have been acquiring Israeli citizenship and getting more involved with West Jerusalem daily life — shopping at Israeli malls, going to Israeli restaurants and sending their children to Israeli educational institutions. Palestinian Jerusalemites are trying to improve and upgrade their status after a long, fruitless wait for support from the PA. They have decided to take it upon themselves to assure their own individual benefits, civil rights and stability. In the last 10 years, 3,374 East Jerusalem residents have acquired full Israeli citizenship.
The number of East Jerusalem residents who have received the Israeli citizenship in the last two years was not equal to the number of requests, and the Ministry of the Interior has admitted that the rate of requests for Israeli citizenship from Palestinian Jerusalemites has exceeded the rate at which the ministry can efficiently handle these requests.
The application for Israeli citizenship by East Jerusalem residents is one of the few options that remain for them. It is still offered by the Israeli government along with a facilitation process. However, the offer of Israeli citizenship for Palestinian Jerusalemites is only one of many policies enacted since 1967. Other policies include the building of Jewish settlements, the confiscation of Palestinian lands, the policy of house demolitions, segregation between the Palestinian communities, physical exclusion by the separation barrier, the constraints of obtaining a building permit, and residency restriction policies. All of these policies are built around the ethno-demographic policy of preserving Jerusalem as “30% Arabs and 70% Jewish.” The change in status of Jerusalemites from residents to Israeli citizens has two dimensions: It can physically exclude the Palestinians from Jerusalem by their own choice, or it can allow them to be considered Israeli inhabitants living in East Jerusalem if they decide to continue living in the city. Understanding the murky details and concepts of planning policies in Jerusalem is never an end in itself; however, these policies could lead to a change in East Jerusalem as Palestinian residents have the ability to become Israeli citizens.
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