Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Palestinians Who Don't Live in Jerusalem

Here's a story that will reverberate loudly throughout the anti-Israeli blogosphere over the next few months or years or decades. Last year (2008) Israel revoked the legal status of Jerusalemites from more than 4,500 Palestinians.

Context: in summer 1967, right after the Six Day War, Israel unilaterally defined a piece of the West Bank as East Jerusalem, and annexed it. The area defined was far greater than the Jordanian municipality of East Jerusalem. The 70,000 Palestinians living in this area were given a legal status of permanent residents in Israel; for the next 20 years or so they could also acquire full Israeli citizenship if they wished, but only a small number asked for it.

Permanent residence or full citizenship, both offer the same set of social security benefits, health care, access to the Israeli economy and wages, and freedom of travel in Israel that the Palestinians of the West Bank don't have, since they're not Israelis. The value of these things is very significant: no one would want to lose them, which is why many East Jerusalem Palestinians will tell in private that they have fears of the Day After the partition of the City, whenever it happens.

When the Palestinians forced Israel to set up its security barrier a few years ago, it suddenly become apparent to everyone that many thousands of Palestinians who used to live in Jerusalem had moved elsewhere, but were still drawing the benefits. That's the background of the story.

From there, you'll take the story wherever your political inclinations direct you. If you're critical of Israel, you'll bemoan the horror of it all:
Officials at Hamoked, which obtained the ministry data via the Freedom of Information Act, said they were concerned that some of those who lost their residency rights may not even know it. "The phenomenon of revoking people's residency has reached frightening dimensions," said Dalia Kerstein, Hamoked's executive director. "The Interior Ministry operation in 2008 is just part of a general policy whose goal is to restrict the size of the Palestinian population and maintain a Jewish majority in Jerusalem. The Palestinians are natives of this city, not Johnny-come-latelys."

If you're willing to accept that Israel doesn't owe financial support and other benefits to Palestinians who no longer live here to be eligible, you'll defend the measures,perhaps even applaud them:
Sheetrit, however, insisted that the operation was necessary. "What we discovered is just the tip of the iceberg," he said. "The State of Israel pays billions of shekels a year in stipends to people who don't even live here. We sent notices to every one of them about the intention to revoke their residency; we gave them time to appeal. Those who appealed weren't touched."

The ministry data shows that 89 Palestinians got their residency back after appealing. Sheetrit said the probe revealed very serious offenses - such as 32 people listed as living at a single address that did not even exist.


Michael W. said...

To "critics of Israel" who often comment at the bottom of Haaretz articles are having a knee jerk reaction to anything involving Israeli presense in East Jerusalem and the West Bank whether it harms the Palestinians or not.

Alex Stein said...

Yaacov - can we surmise from your post that you would support removing said rights from Israelis who no longer live in Israel?

Bryan Z said...

Alex, the Palestinians living in East Jerusalem who did not accept Israeli citizenship are the ones who stand to lose privileges. Israeli citizens are at risk of losing nothing, and no country would arbitrarily strip a citizen of his or her citizenship simply for living abroad. In comparison, the Palestinians who lost residency status had just that--status as a resident of Jerusalem. IF those people were not residents of Jerusalem and had not been residents of Jerusalem for years, then they should not have been receiving the same benefits as people who actually are still living in Jerusalem.

Anonymous said...

So you think it's ok that if Jewish person living in Jerusalem decides to move to the West Bank, he'll automatically maintain his benefits, while his Palestinian neighbor will lose them?

Also - the policy of taking away residency from East Jerusalem Palestinians did not begin with the Security Fence. It has been policy for years.

I love Israel with all my heart, but if we don't take a good, honest look in the mirror - we are going to singlehandedly create the one state solution.

A. Jay Adler said...

Anonymous, what is it about the concept of citizenship, which entails certain rights for the citizen and obligations to that citizen from the state, that is not clear in distinction to the concept of residency, which is a conditioned state for the resident that the state is not obligated to confer? Would you have all nations withdraw the benefits of citizenship from their expatriate citizens, or grant lifelong benefits to resident non-citizens who are, in fact, no longer residents but maintaining (even bogus) mailing addresses? It isn't all and always about Israel. Sometimes an idea is actually an idea.

Yaacov said...

Hey folks, slow down!

The distinction between citizenship and residence is not an Israeli invention. Just about every country in the world has it, I expect. Citizenship is being a member of the club of a country. In most countries (but not all), you still have it even when you live elsewhere. Israeli citizens also: once you're an Israeli you remain an Israeli no matter where you live, no matter what you do, and no matter who you are. An Arab Israeli who lives his entire life in Los Angeles is still an Israeli citizen, unless he or she takes specific actions to stop being so.

A resident, as the word indicates, means you are resident. If you leave, you're no longer a resident, irrespective of your religion,nationality, race or whatever. A Jew from some other country who becomes an Israeli resident rather than citizen, and then leaves again, is no longer a resident. (I know such people, a few of them, Jews who wish to live in Israel but don't want Israeli citizenship because their other citizenship will be lost).

The thing about Israeli residence is that it bestows major advantages, such as social security and health care. In the US, even citizenship doesn't bestow health care, but Israel isn't the US. The Palestinians of East Jerusalem aren't Israelis, on the contrary, they're proudly Palestinian and wish to live in Palestine - but they also want to have the benefit of Israeli social security and health care. So long as they live in Jerusalem, they do, too. Once they decide to leave Jerusalem, however, to cease being residents, why should they preserve the rights of residents?

Don't make this an issue of morality, or fairness, or persecution. It's not. It's a simple issue: are these people residents, or not?

Victor said...

Yaakov, how long can they retain residency status while living elsewhere until it is revoked? Is the residency status passed on to children born outside of Jerusalem? I hate these kinds of issues.

Having been born and spent my childhood in the Soviet Union, I have a serious aversion to "papieren", as the Germans would say, with everything that word entails. Controlling people through paperwork, without an effective arbitration or appeals process, is nasty business. At the same time, weeding fraud and abuse out of a welfare system is bound to be messy, but must be done.

Having spoken to Palestinians, having Jerusalem residency is a huge deal - something of an elitism.

Yaacov said...

Victor -

Seven consecutive years, and there is a process of appeals.

Victor said...

Wow, that's perhaps a bit TOO generous.

So, you're saying I could fly to Israel for the summer, apply for permanent residency, establish a mailbox and start collecting unemployment and health insurance? And they couldn't cancel my benefits for 7 years after I left?! That's crazy.

On a total sidenote, it's very interesting that so many hundreds of thousands of Palestinians did NOT take Israeli citizenship in all this time. Makes you wonder if perhaps permanent (non-voting) residency is something many West Bank Palestinians would not be opposed to - a modern ger toshav status.

AKUS said...

Alex Stein - your comment was a silly and cheap shot at Yaakov. The answer is yes - as an Israeli no longer resident in Israel, I and my family have no rights (Bituach Leumi, healthcare, etc.) even though we maintain our Israeli citizenship.

Shame on you - but no less than I would expect from Seth Freedman's best friend

Victor said...

Yaakov, do permanent residents vote in local elections? I seem to remember several Israeli candidates for mayor of Jerusalem campaigning among Arab residents, which wouldn't make sense unless there were many who had citizenship, or if permanent residents could vote in mayoral elections.

Yaacov said...

Permanent residents may indeed vote in municipal elections. The Palestininas in East Jerusalem, interestingly, don't generally vote at all. There must be something like 100,000 eligible voters among them; in recent municipal elections perhaps 4,000voted. Yet the last time they could have voted in Palestinian elections (January 2006), no more than 6,000 of them voted. For whatever reason, the Palestinians of East Jerusalem have decided that voting, in any election, isn't something they wish to do.

Danny said...

Alex, do you know of another country who give residency to a non-citizen and then carries on giving them the same residency rights in perpetuity? Especially after they are no longer residents?

I have been the resident of 6 countries, 5 of which i am no longer resident. Should I be crying racism because I was "stripped" of that status?

Morey Altman said...

BryanZ comment is an important one, ignored by many critics of Israel: All east Jerusalem residents are, by law, entitled to Israeli citizenship. The fact is, most refuse to apply, because they don't want to swear allegiance to Israel or renounce other citizenships (many still hold Jordanian passports, but that may now be changing). Sigh, Jerusalem. Well, at least we have the EU to tell us what to do :D

I have a few thoughts on Jerusalem here:

NormanF said...

The Arabs in eastern Jerusalem are not Israeli citizens - by choice - and have no right to complain about being deprived by Israel. When they leave Jerusalem, they forfeit any claim to further presence in the city.