Quiet Deportation in East Jerusalem

Despite international outrage, Israel has been waging a politically motivated racial campaign against Palestinian Jerusalemites. Israeli authorities have been systematically revoking the identity cards of Palestinians who were born in Jerusalem and whose families have lived there for centuries. The policy, described as "quiet deportation" by many human rights groups, has reached a scale where it is contributing to an additional change in the city’s demographic composition. The widespread confiscation of Palestinian identity cards is part and parcel of Israel’s campaign to gain total control over Jerusalem and create physical and demographic facts on the ground before the negotiations on the city begin.

The status of Palestinian Jerusalemites is a special case. After the war of 1967, Israel occupied Arab East Jerusalem and proceeded to illegally expand its municipal boundaries and to later illegally annex it in 1980. Israeli laws were imposed on East Jerusalem, and its Palestinian residents were issued distinct "identity cards". According to Israeli law, they are not citizens, but rather "permanent residents" who, although born in Jerusalem, hold the status of foreigners or immigrants who "entered" Jerusalem after 1967. Their ability to travel is dependent on temporary "laissez-passers" (travel documents), issued and renewed at the whim of the Israeli government. Between 1967 and 1995, Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem living abroad had been issued re-entry visas by Israel. They were never notified by the Israeli government of any policy change, nor were they warned that the procedure was now inadequate. The Israeli government did not make it known to Palestinians that their right to live in East Jerusalem would be linked to proof of their "center of life". Many, upon returning to Jerusalem or upon renewing their ID cards, are finding their right to live in Jerusalem denied and their papers revoked. Others are not even being allowed to return, as their re-entry visas are repeatedly denied renewal at Israeli embassies abroad.

In the past few years, more than one thousand Palestinian Jerusalemites have had their residency rights revoked (1047 acknowledged by the Israeli government). The current policy of the Israeli Interior Ministry maintains that any Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem who cannot prove that he or she currently lives there, who has lived abroad for more than seven years (in some cases even less), or holds a foreign passport loses the right to live in their birthplace. The number of families affected by this policy is potentially quite large, as many Jerusalemites have been forced to move outside the municipal boundaries of the city into the West Bank as a direct result of Israeli policies. These include restrictions on housing for Palestinians in Jerusalem and refusals to grant permits for "family unification"- granting a spouse from the West Bank a Jerusalem ID. Many other Palestinian Jerusalemites have gone abroad to study or find employment. Thus, hundreds of Palestinians who, for whatever personal reason, have been living in the West Bank or abroad, have been forced to lose their identity cards, leaving them with no legal status, papers, or civil rights. Once the card is revoked, the Palestinian must leave the city. This Israeli policy has thus transformed Palestinians into illegal immigrants in the city of their birth, and those who remain in Jerusalem do so "illegally," losing their right to health care and to travel freely.

The Israeli practice of stripping East Jerusalem Arabs of their legal papers began in the last months of the previous Israeli government and has intensified since Prime Minister Netanyahu came to power. Last month the Netanyahu government, under pressure from the international community, stated that the policy would no longer be enforced. Yet, contrary to Netanyahu’s statements, the Interior Ministry has stepped up its campaign, recently revoking 45 identity cards in one single day. Israeli officials deny that the policy has a political motive, despite the fact that the law applies only to Palestinians, not Jews, who can come to the city at any time, from anywhere in the world, and can return after having been gone for unlimited periods of time. The Israeli government has attempted to justify the policy by claiming that all Palestinians forfeit their right to live in their birthplace by moving, albeit temporarily, outside the municipal boundaries, even by one mile. However, this policy was never formally announced, and the laws regarding entry and exit from Israel were never formally changed.

The policy, which can be considered a form of "ethnic cleansing", has been strictly enforced by the Israeli Minister of Interior, who confirmed that the law aims to "promote a rise in Jewish population", and also stated that "it does not matter what means I or other minister uses." By revoking residency rights, the Israeli government is able to limit the "official" number of Palestinians in Jerusalem, and contribute to the Jewish majority in the city. Furthermore, the records of human rights advocates demonstrate that many of those stripped of their papers actually live in Jerusalem, and that the Israeli investigations into their pasts are often inaccurate.

This Israeli policy is a blatant violation of international law, especially the Fourth Geneva Convention which forbids the occupying Power from changing any laws or institutions in the occupied territory, and from transferring any individuals or populations from the occupied territories elsewhere. Despite the fact that these Palestinians were born in Jerusalem, and that it was Israel, not the Palestinians, which entered and occupied East Jerusalem in 1967, they are being treated as foreigners. This policy of eviction, a clear violation of human rights, deserves forceful action by the international community to protect the rights of Palestinians in Jerusalem. The world cannot allow Israel to illegally erase the unique character of Jerusalem, holy to all three monotheistic religions, and to transform the city into its monoreligious and monocultural capital.