By Howard Schneider
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, December 3, 2009
JERUSALEM -- Israel last year revoked the Jerusalem residency of more than 4,500 Palestinians, far more than in any other year since Israel took full control of the city in 1967, according to government figures obtained under the country's freedom of information act by a local human rights group.
In what an official for the group on Wednesday called a "frightening" escalation in the enforcement of Jerusalem residency laws, the Interior Ministry said that a sweep of its files last spring turned up thousands of names of Palestinian Jerusalemites who had left the country for longer than the allowed seven years, and would not be allowed to return.
In the 42 years that Israel has had full control of the city, it has on average revoked the Jerusalem residency permits of about 200 people a year -- and often fewer than 100. The previous high had been 1,363, in 2006.
The impact of the revocations is not clear. There are about 260,000 Arabs in Jerusalem -- approximately 35 percent of the city's population -- according to the most recent estimate by the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, a think tank that studies the city's demographics. That proportion has been steadily increasing amid controversy over Israeli housing and other policies criticized by Palestinians as an effort to diminish their presence.
Palestinian officials and a lawyer for the human rights group, Hamoked, said it was impossible to tell how many of the 4,500 had emigrated from Jerusalem for good, or when they left, and how many might be abroad for work or study and expecting to return.
An Interior Ministry letter to Hamoked said most of the revocations were "clear expiry cases" involving people who had moved abroad, though it did acknowledge about 38 involving individuals who had moved from Jerusalem to Palestinian areas of the West Bank. An additional 89 people appealed the revocation and retained their residency, the Interior Ministry letter said.
At a time of intense international focus on the fate of the contested city, "revocation of residence has reached frightening proportions," said Dalia Kerstein, executive director of Hamoked, the organization that petitioned for release of the information. The city's "future is supposed to be determined in negotiations. The Palestinians are natives of this city" whose right to live there should not be summarily revoked, she said.
The numbers highlight the demographic complexities of a city that Israel claims as its "undivided capital" but that Palestinians feel should also form the capital of a future Palestinian state. Israel took full control of the city in 1967 when it captured the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem -- at the time under Jordanian control -- and annexed them in a move never recognized internationally.
Unlike the Arabs who stayed inside Israel proper after the creation of the Jewish state in 1948, and became Israeli citizens, the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem have remained in a sort of limbo. They have many of the rights of Israelis -- to travel throughout the country, for example, and receive welfare benefits -- but are not full citizens, and their permission to live in the city can be revoked for a variety of reasons.
"People who are studying or working outside, they are in a very dangerous circumstance," said Adnan Husseini, the Palestinian Authority's top official in Jerusalem. "It means we don't have any nationality. Zero."