For Mahmoud Qaraeen, the Israeli government’s revocation of residency rights from Palestinian residents of occupied East Jerusalem is more than just a troublesome policy; it’s a concrete threat that impacts his ability to study, work or even just travel abroad.
“People feel that they are under siege,” Qaraeen, a 25-year-old resident of Silwan in East Jerusalem, told The Electronic Intifada. “I cannot do anything to risk the possibility of not coming back [to Jerusalem].”
A field researcher with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel’s (ACRI) “Human Rights in East Jerusalem” project, Qaraeen submitted a petition withACRI and Hamoked – the Center for the Defence of the Individual, to the Israeli high court on Thursday 7 April.
The petition demands that the current practice of revoking residency rights be changed to protect the rights of Palestinians in East Jerusalem and in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights.
“We should be treated as the indigenous people of the place. We are not guests. We are from here and we should be able to leave [the city] and come back if we choose,” Qaraeen said.
More specifically, Hamoked wrote in a 7 April press release that the petition is asking “the court to determine that with respect to East Jerusalem residents, for whom this piece of earth is home, permanent residency visas cannot expire, even following extended periods of living abroad or the acquisition of status in another country” (“HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel lodge a petition”).
Since Israel illegally occupied East Jerusalem in 1967, later annexing the territory, it is estimated that more than 14,000 identification cards have been revoked from Palestinian Jerusalemites, who have thereby lost their residency rights and the ability to live in the city.
“The main focus of the petition is the Entry into Israel regulations,” Hamoked staff attorney Noa Diamond told The Electronic Intifada.
Put into place in 1974, article 11a of the Entry into Israel regulations states that “a person shall be considered as having left Israel and settled in a country outside of Israel” if this person has resided outside of Israel for at least seven years, has received permanent residency in another country or has received citizenship of another country through naturalization.
In 1988, the Israeli Ministry of Interior attempted to revoke the residency of Mubarak Awad, a Palestinian resident of Jerusalem who was born in the city in 1943. Awad fought his deportation order and took his case to the Israeli high court.
In what is now known as the “Awad judgment,” the court upheld the deportation order against Awad and, most importantly, determined that the law regulating the status of East Jerusalem residents is the Entry into Israel Law.
This ruling has formed the basis of Israel’s policy of revoking residency rights of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem ever since. Should Palestinian residents of Jerusalem leave the city for a prolonged period of time or accept foreign status, they risk losing the right to return to their homes.
“Widely what we’re saying in the petition is there’s a very basic problem with applying these regulations to people that were born here and have been living here all their lives or most of their lives,” Diamond explained.
“We’re talking about an area that Israel annexed in 1967. We’re not talking about immigrants that filed and requested status in Israel, but rather native people that were here from before,” she added.
A 10 April ACRI explained the petition further: “The organizations further requested that the law be amended to provide special protection clauses for those who reside in areas that were annexed by the State of Israel (currently East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights) so that residents of these areas could exit and enter the country freely” (“Petition: Stop Revoking Permits of E. Jerusalem Palestinians”).
The statement adds “Thus, a distinction would be made between immigrants who had acquired status in Israel for reasons such as marriage to an Israeli citizen, who would still be required to continuously prove that their center-of-life is here, and between residents of East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights who would be allowed to leave and return at will, as is the case with citizens.”
More than 14,000 ID cards revoked since 1967
Shortly after Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, and subsequent annexing of the territory, Israeli authorities conducted a census of the Palestinian population in Jerusalem and distributed identification cards to those living in the city, granting them permanent residency — not citizenship — rights.
Palestinian Jerusalemites were permitted to apply and receive Israeli citizenship if they met certain conditions, including swearing allegiance to the State of Israel. Most refused on principle.
As permanent residents, Palestinians in East Jerusalem have the right to live and work in Israel yet are denied other provisions that come with full Israeli citizenship. For instance, unlike citizenship, permanent residency is only passed on to a person’s children if certain conditions are met, including most notably proving that one’s “center of life” is in Jerusalem.
The Israeli interior ministry introduced the “center of life” policy in 1995, placing the burden of proof on Palestinians to show that their day-to-day life takes place in the city. Electricity, telephone and tax bills, and school or work certificates are some of the documents Palestinians can use to prove that their center of life is in Jerusalem.
If they fail to prove this, Palestinians can be stripped of their residency rights and, by extension, forced to leave East Jerusalem.
According to the aforementioned petition drafted by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, “in recent years, there has been a sharp rise in revocation of residency, and 2008 set a record with 4,577 revocations. Almost 50 percent of the total revocations of permits since the annexation of Jerusalem in 1967 occurred between the years 2006 to 2008.”
While no concrete figures are available yet, the Jerusalem Center for Social and Economic Rights (JCSER) estimates that an additional 191 identification cards have been revoked so far in 2011 alone.
Municipal taxes also used to evacuate residents
In the last month, Jerusalem-based Palestinian rights groups have also denounced what they see is a subtle attempt by the Jerusalem municipality to force Palestinians from the city: the collection of taxes.
“We have some claims from the Palestinians that said that they didn’t receive the bills from the arnona [municipal tax]. Some of the people went to the municipality to ask for this bill. Then they told them, ‘Look, we are not going to give you [the tax bill] and we will not consider as if you are in East Jerusalem,’” explained Ziad al-Hammouri, the Director General of the Jerusalem Center for Social and Economic Rights (JSCER).
Calculated by neighborhood, size of the home and construction quality, among other factors, the arnona tax is collected from all residents of Jerusalem. Palestinian Jerusalemites pay some of the highest levels of municipal taxes in the city, despite the fact that they don’t hold Israeli citizenship and receive far less municipal services compared to Jewish Israelis living in West Jerusalem.
Palestinians living on the other side of Israel’s wall — in communities like Anata, Shufat and Ras Khamis — are the ones who haven’t received their bills, al-Hammouri said.
“[The Jerusalem municipality says] that they are collecting from the Palestinians roughly between 33 and 35 percent of their budget, and they are spending not more than 5 percent [on Palestinian neighborhoods]. Of course, they are spending this [money] on the settlements,” he explained.
Al-Hammouri added that not receiving the arnona tax bill is a dangerous new development — just as dangerous as the revocation of identity cards — in the municipality’s attempt to evict Palestinians from Jerusalem, and that more than 100,000 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem could be affected.
“I think most of the Palestinians they would be happy, more than happy, if they will get rid of this taxation. But, in our case, the Israelis are using this arnonatax, this bill, as one of the documents to protect your existence in East Jerusalem,” he said.
“In the end of the day, you will lose your property from this kind of taxation. Then, if you will lose your property then you will leave the city.”
Slow ethnic cleansing taking place
In late March, United Nations Human Rights Council investigator andinternational law expert Richard Falk stated that Israel is carrying out a form of ethnic cleansing against Palestinians in East Jerusalem.
“The continued pattern of settlement expansion in East Jerusalem combined with the forcible eviction of long-residing Palestinians is creating an intolerable situation in the part of the city previously controlled by Jordan,” Falk told the UN council.
“This situation can only be described in its cumulative impact as a form of ethnic cleansing,” Falk added.
According to Mahmoud Qaraeen, this is indeed the purpose of Israel’s policy of revoking identity cards from Palestinian Jerusalemites: forcing Palestinian residents out of the city.
“The increase in the number of residencies revoked [from 2006 to 2008] shows that there is a threat to the mere existence of Arabs in East Jerusalem,” said Qaraeen, explaining that even if he has the opportunity, he will not study abroad for fear that his residency rights will be revoked.
Although he said he doesn’t expect much from the petition to the Israeli high court, Qaraeen added that he hoped some change or alteration to the way the laws are applied to Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem is possible.
“It’s also an attempt to refresh people’s minds and consciousness regarding the revocation of residency in East Jerusalem. We hope to force the issue into public opinion, into people’s minds,” he said.
“It’s about breaking the barrier of fear. Even as occupied [people], we do have the right to petition against the law and to have our voices heard.”