Israeli High Court Postpones Decision on East Jerusalem Residency as ID Card Confiscation Continues
Some people call it the "quiet deportation," while others are calling it "ethnic cleansing." Whatever term is used to describe it, there is no doubt that the systematic expulsion of Palestinians from Jerusalem has been stepped up in the past three years. Between 1996 and 1998, Israeli authorities have stripped over 2,000 families, affecting an estimated 8,500 individuals, of their right to live in the city using the insidious bureaucratic tool of ID card confiscation, among others.
On April 22, the Israeli High Court heard a petition submiTTed last year by five Israeli human rights organizations for Palestinians whose residency rights had been revoked. In the face of growing pressure and media attention being brought to bear by a coalition of groups working on the so-called Campaign to End ID Card Confiscation in Jerusalem, the High Court postponed a decision saying it would await further details from the petitioners and the government respondents.
The petitioners, represented by attorneys Lea Tsemel and Eliayu Avram, argued that starting in December 1995 there has been a marked change in the criteria used by the Interior Ministry on Palestinian residency in Jerusalem and that, thereafter, more stringent criteria were applied to determine whether East Jerusalem Palestinians had the right to live in the city. The petition challenged both the substantive basis for revoking residency and the procedures being followed by the Israeli Interior Ministry.
During that period, Israel's interior minister, Eliyahu Suissa, introduced a new and extreme policy which in effect turns Palestinian residents of Jerusalem into illegal aliens in their city of birth, explained Tsemel. Palestinians who leave the city's overcrowded and underfunded neighborhoods to live in the West Bank, or even just outside the city limits, risk losing their residency. Since Palestinians are not permitted to build new homes or add on to existing ones, overcrowding and housing shortages have become acute.
"Imagine if you were born and raised in New York City then decided to marry and move out to the suburbs to raise your family, and you lost your right to ever live in New York or even to visit, for that matter...because with the closure, Palestinians can't even visit Jerusalem," said one woman who was demonstrating in front of the High Court. She asked only to be called Um Wajiha because, she explained, she has had to move into a village near Bethlehem recently to be near her two children who are studying at the university there.
"We still pay all taxes and utility bills in the city but we have to live outside for now...if they [Israeli municipal authorities] realize we're not permanently living here, they will strip us of our right to live in Jerusalem, the city where my great-great grandparents, and everyone since, were born," she said. "Natural expansion in oar neighborhoods is not part of Israel's urban planning policy for Jerusalem...In addition to snatching our ID cards, they are forcing us out by crowding us in and letting the garbage pile up."
Also in attendance at the High Court hearing was an international delegation of jurists made up of European, Indian, Israeli and Palestinian representatives whose presence, according to activists, was to "professionally embarrass the Israeli Supreme Court, raise international awareness of Israel's bureaucratic ethnic cleansing" and to collect data for an upcoming meeting in Geneva (June/July) where enforcement of the Fourth Geneva Convention in the occupied territories is to be discussed.
The legal status of Palestinians living in East Jerusalem is worth pointing out here: Immediately following the war of June 1967, an Israeli population census recorded that there were 66,000 Palestinians living in East Jerusalem and the surrounding West Bank areas that were annexed to the new municipal boundaries created by Israel. …