After victory in the 1967 Six Day war, Israel annexed East Jerusalem – that part of the city that had been under Jordanian rule since the end of the British Mandate in 1948 – together with an additional 64 square kilometers which had been part of the West Bank. Jerusalem thus became Israel’s largest city and was declared to be its ‘united and eternal capital’.The international community, led by the United Nations, has continuously denounced this act of unilateral annexation, arguing it is a violation of the fundamental
principle in international law prohibiting the forcible acquisition of territory. The international community has consistently considered East Jerusalem to be an occupied territory, thus akin to the West Bank and Gaza.
Their support of the Palestinian claim to East Jerusalem was bolstered by the fact that at the time of occupation Palestinians constituted the majority of residents in this sector of the city. Israel has engaged in a demographic battle to secure Israeli sovereignty over the whole city. For almost four decades, successive governments have implemented policies designed to transform the city’s population structure and ensure the numeric superiority of Jews. Until the construction of the Wall in and around East Jerusalem, these objectives were pursued through a series of discriminatory regulations to reduce the
Palestinian population by rendering their lives increasingly intolerable and encouraging the growth of Israeli settlements in Palestinian neighborhoods. Today the approximately 230,000 Palestinian
Jerusalemites represent around 30 percent of Jerusalem’s total population.
Under the post-1967 plan designed by Israeli military commanders, heavily populated Palestinian areas were not included, but land belonging to several Palestinian villages was incorporated into Jerusalem. Those who were left outside the new municipal boundaries, or who happened to be outside Jerusalem in 1967, remained residents of the West Bank and, as such, subject to military rule. The Israeli government conducted a census of the Palestinian population living within the city’s new administrative boundaries
and granted permanent residency status to the Palestinian residents of the annexed areas. They were entitled to become Israeli citizens provided they agreed to swear allegiance to the State of Israel. Mass refusal to
recognize Israeli sovereignty over occupied Jerusalem meant that only 2.3 percent of Palestinian Jerusalemites became Israeli citizens. The others became permanent residents of Israel subject to Israeli law and jurisdiction, just as foreigners who voluntarily settle in Israel.
Jerusalem permanent residency status differs significantly from citizenship. Permanent residents of Israel are entitled to live and work in Israel without special permits, to receive social benefits from the
National Insurance Institute and to vote in local elections. Permanent residency is not automatically granted to the holders’ children or spouses, however, and permanent residents, unlike Israeli citizens, do not enjoy
the right to return to Israel at any time.
Between 1967 and 1994 Israel confiscated 24.8 square kilometers of land in East Jerusalem, 80 percent of it belonging to Palestinians. Land expropriation is continuing. Today a mere 7 percent of the area of East Jerusalem remains available to Palestinians. Confiscated land has mostly been used for the construction of Jewish settlements and settlers’ bypass roads, in violation of international humanitarian law prohibiting an occupying power from transferring part of its own population into territory it has occupied. The Jerusalem Municipality has expediently used zoning restrictions to establish ‘green areas’, supposedly set aside for environmental and recreational purposes, but actually deployed as a tactic to remove the land from Palestinian use and create a reserve for Jewish housing.
The Town Planing Scheme (TPS), another key instrument of ‘quiet transfer’, restricts building permits in already built-up areas, the only areas available for Palestinian use. TPS has been used to restrict the development of Palestinian neighborhoods. Palestinians are only permitted to build one or two-story buildings, while adjacent Israeli housing units may have up to eight floors. Palestinians must go through a complex and time-consuming administrative process to obtain a building permit. These cost around $25,000 – a considerable obstacle as Palestinian incomes are significantly below those of Israelis. Palestinians obtain a disproportionately small percentage of the building permits issued every year by the Jerusalem Municipality. Only 7.5 percent of the homes legally built during the period 1990-1997 belong to Palestinians.
CENTER OF LIFE
In 1995 the Israeli Interior Ministry introduced a new regulation requiring Palestinian residents to prove they had continuously lived and worked in Jerusalem during the preceding seven years. The standard
of proof demanded is so rigorous that even persons who have never left Jerusalem have difficulties meeting it. Palestinians who fail to prove that their ‘center of life’ is Jerusalem risk having their residency status
revoked and their requests for family reunification and child registration rejected. The number of Jerusalem residency ID cards confiscated after promulgation of the ‘center of life’ policy rose by over 600 percent.
Suburbs on Jerusalem’s outskirts, to which many East Jerusalemites had moved as a result of earlier discriminatory policies, were declared to be outside Jerusalem, thus removing the residency rights of over
50,000 people. In order to defend their claims to residency and the social rights which go with it, some 20,000 Palestinians returned to live within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries.
Israel’s ‘center of life’ policy seriously affects Palestinians’ entitlement to health
and social benefits, to family reunification, child registration and membership of the Israeli national insurance scheme. The ‘center of life’ is verified for each annual renewal of spouses’ residence permits. Thousands of Palestinian children born in Jerusalem of parents who do not both hold a Jerusalem ID
have been denied registration and are unable to exercise their basic rights, including their right to education. While the ‘center of life’ policy had been officially discontinued, the outbreak of the Al Aqsa intifada in September 2000 led to its reactivation. Since May 2002, Israel has refused to accept applications
for family unification and refused to register the children of permanent residents who were born in the OPT.
Originally published in Forced Migration Review.