Copyrighted material


by Peter Hirschberg

Israelis Resurrecting Old Deeds To Seize Palestinian Property

(IPS) JERUSALEM -- Arab residents of East Jerusalem are finding themselves increasingly under threat of what one Israeli human rights organization calls "quiet transfer."

According to information obtained by the B'Tselem rights group from Israel's Interior Ministry, the number of Arab residents on the eastern side of the disputed city who had their permanent residency status revoked in 2006 increased dramatically -- more than six fold. While the number stood at 272 in 2003 and was 222 in 2005, last year 1,363 residents of East Jerusalem had their residency status revoked.

Permanent residency status grants the quarter of a million Arabs who live in East Jerusalem most of the rights afforded to Israeli citizens. They can't vote in parliamentary elections, but they can vote in municipal elections, can work in Israel and are eligible for state social security benefits and state-provided healthcare. These benefits make East Jerusalem residency a valuable and prized status.

After Israel annexed the eastern side of Jerusalem in 1967 -- a move never recognized by the international community -- the Arab residents there were allowed to apply for full Israeli citizenship. But most refused to do so, because naturalization required they swear allegiance to the State of Israel and renounce any other citizenships they may have.

Because of the disputed nature of Jerusalem -- the Palestinians claim the eastern part as the future capital of an independent state, while Israel claims sovereignty over the entire city -- and the refusal of the Arab residents to recognize Israeli sovereignty in East Jerusalem, rights groups like B'Tselem have argued that the status of these residents is different to that of permanent residents in other countries.

Sarit Michaeli, a spokeswoman for B'Tselem, told IPS that Israel needed to be sensitive to the unique and dilemma-ridden position in which Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem find themselves. "Israel should relate to these people as if they were citizens (and not just permanent residents)," she says.

The mass revocation of residency status in East Jerusalem first began in 1996, when Israel began cancelling the residency of hundreds of Arab residents who had moved outside of the city's municipal boundaries, either to somewhere in the West Bank or abroad. In 1997, the number reached 1,097, but was still lower than 2006, the highest ever.

The Interior Ministry policy of revoking permanent residency is based on a 1988 decision by the Israeli High Court, which determined that unlike naturalization, permanent residency status is "an expression of the reality of a permanent stay." In other words, when permanent residency is no longer in effect, the status "cancels itself."

Btselem's Michaeli accuses the government of a policy of "quiet transfer" -- an accusation levelled by more than one Israeli civil rights group, who say successive governments have used the policy of revoking permanent residency status in a bid to tilt the demographic balance in Jerusalem in Israel's favor. In the mid-90s, for instance, Israel's interior ministry made it increasingly difficult for East Jerusalem residents to get construction permits, which led to a housing shortage for Arabs, leaving them no choice but to search for housing outside of the city, a decision that often cost them their permanent residency status.

In 2000, the Interior Ministry told the High Court it would revert to its pre-1995 policy when less stringent criteria were in effect regarding the revoking of residency status. That meant residents of the city who were living in Jordan or elsewhere in the West Bank could renew their status even if they had been living outside the city for several years. And they wouldn't have to provide documents like water and electricity bills in order to prove uninterrupted residency.

As a result, the number of residents having their status revoked dropped sharply, and hundreds of Palestinians who had lost their residency status had it reinstated.

Now, however, the policy seems to have changed again. In correspondence with Shalom Benamo, a senior official at the Interior Ministry, B'Tselem was told that most of the cases of revoked residency between 2005 and 2006 "involved people who immigrated abroad and acquired foreign citizenship." The rest of the cases, he said, involved people who had lived outside of Jerusalem for seven years or more.

When questioned by B'Tselem over the sudden surge in the number of residents having their status revoked, the ministry insisted there had been no change in policy and put it down to "growing efficiency at the office and better supervision of borders."

Civil rights groups are skeptical.

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor   August 15, 2007   (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to use in any format.