Some 200 Palestinians as well as a handful of Israeli police officers were hurt in clashes at al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem the night of May 7, the latest outburst in a series of confrontations in the city throughout the current month of Ramadan. Police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades as Palestinians threw stones and bottles. For weeks, East Jerusalem has seen nightly protests over the impending eviction of hundreds of Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah district. So far, 12 Palestinian families in the neighborhood have received eviction orders issued by the Israeli courts. Four of the families have filed a petition with the Supreme Court, which is expected to rule in their cases next week.
The eviction orders were issued at the behest of Jewish settler organizations, who claim the lands in question were owned by Jews before 1948, when Jordanian authorities settled uprooted Palestinians there. The settler organizations, purporting to represent the former Jewish owners, are invoking Israel’s 1970 Law on Legal & Administrative Affairs, which stipulates that Jews who lost their holdings in East Jerusalem in 1948 can reclaim their property. The Israeli courts have repeatedly approved East Jerusalem evictions on this basis. (BBC News, Al Jazeera, May 8; NYT, May 7)
Old City Palestinians denied the franchise
All this comes amid an impasse concerning the voting rights of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, also called the Old City. The Palestinian Authority called in January for parliamentary elections to be held May 22, the first in the Occupied Territories since 2006. Many were looking hopefully to the polls as an opportunity end the 14-year division between the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. But on April 29, the PA’s President Mahmoud Abbas announced that the vote would be delayed indefinitely. While it it is widely thought his actual motive was fear of a Hamas victory, the official reason for the postponement is the refusal by Israeli authorities to confirm that it would allow voting in East Jerusalem. (NYT, BBC News, April 29)
Whether or not Abbas is cynically exploiting this question, the dilemma is a real one—many East Jerusalem Palestinians are effectively denied the right to vote in either Palestinian or Israeli elections.
Israeli authorities allowed the 2006 PA elections to proceed in East Jerusalem, but under harsh restrictions. Hamas was officially barred from campaigning. Several Hamas activists, including a candidate for the PA Legislative Council, were arrested on charges of illegal electioneering. (The Guardian, Jan. 15, 2006)
Artifices of apartheid
East Jerusalem Palestinians are officially afforded the option of full Israeli citizenship, but multiple bureaucratic barriers have been raised, leaving the large majority effectively disenfranchised. Reasons given for rejection of citizenship applications include insufficient knowledge of Hebrew, minor criminal offenses (even from many years ago), and dubious suspicion of links to individuals considered security threats. But the most common reason concerns “center of life.” Applicants must prove that their lives “center” in Israel, and that they have no intention of relocating elsewhere—including to districts near East Jerusalem that are officially considered to be in the occupied West Bank. Even Palestinians who were born in Jerusalem and have lived all their lives there must present an array documents—municipal tax receipts, utility bills, school transcripts, pay stubs and rental leases. (Haaretz, Feb. 2)
After Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1967, the Palestinians living there were given “permanent residence” status, which affords them the right to vote in local elections, and receive national health insurance—but not to vote in national or Knesset elections, or be issued an Israeli passport. The requirements for citizenship application stem from Article 5 of Israel’s Citizenship Law. In 1968, Article 4a was amended to the law, allowing Palestinians who were born in East Jerusalem and have no other citizenship to obtain Israeli citizenship almost automatically—as long as they have been residing there for at least five years, have not been convicted of a serious crime, and apply between their 18th and 23rd birthdays. However, this provision was irrelevant for the first 20 years, because East Jerusalem Palestinians were still officially citizens of Jordan. In 1988, Jordan stripped all Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem of citizenship—but even then, the Israeli Interior Ministry established no procedure for processing applications under Article 4a, and not one person was granted citizenship under the provision. Only last November, following legal challenges, the Interior Ministry agreed to finally implement Article 4a.
Nearly all of Jerusalem’s some quarter-million Palestinians (about a third of the city’s inhabitants) reside in the East. Although more East Jerusalem Palestinians have been applying for Israeli citizenship in recent years, fewer than 10% have received it. (Haaretz, Nov. 25, 2020; Haaretz, Nov. 29, 2017)
Jewish settlers on the West Bank, in contrast, remain Israeli citizens and may vote in Israeli elections—despite residing outside Israel’s legal borders. The West Bank’s 450,000 settlers, living in more than 250 settlements and outposts among towns where 3 million Palestinians reside, make up some five percent of Israel’s population. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for years mired in corruption scandals, has groomed the settlers as a special support base with his promise to formally annex the entire West Bank. (Reuters, Feb. 25, 2020)
Fifty-four years after the annexation of East Jerusalem, Israeli protestations that this state of affairs does not constitute apartheid because it is “temporary” certainly ring hollow.
Air-strikes hit Gaza after rocket attacks
At least 20 are reported killed, including children, in Israeli air-strikes on the Gaza Strip. The strikes were launched in retaliation for a barrage of rockets fired by Hamas from the Strip deep into Israeli territory, triggering air-raid sirens in Jerusalem and causing some property damage but no casualties. Hamas said it undertook the rocket attacks in response to violence earlier in the day at al-Aqsa Mosque compound. The compound was raided by police in the morning after hundreds of Palestinians had gathered there overnight. At least 250 Palestinians wounded in the raid have been hospitalized, with some in serious or critical condition. (BBC News, NYT)
Death toll mounts in Gaza air-strikes
Hamas fired more than 100 rockets at Tel Aviv after an Israeli air-strike destroyed an apartment building in Gaza City. The building’s top floor supposedly housed offices used by Hamas officials. Residents had evacuated the building, warned by Israeli drones ahead of the air-strike. Nonetheless, the Gaza health ministry says that 32 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli air-raids on the Strip over the past two days.
Two Israelis were killed when rockets struck two houses in the port city of Ashkelon, and a third killed in the Tel Aviv suburb Holon. Another rocket hit an empty school in Ashkelon that had been ordered closed due to the rocket strikes. (BBC News, Al Jazeera, AP)
‘Civil war’ breaks out in Lod
Israel has declared a state of emergency in the central city of Lod after rioting by Israeli Arabs. Cars were set alight and several people reported injured. One protester was reportedly killed by a Jewish vigilante, who has been arrested. Mayor Yair Revivo termed the situation a “civil war out of control,” and called on the government to send in the army. “This is Kristallnacht in Lod,” he said, charging that protesters were throwing firebombs into Jewish homes.
Thousands of Arabs also demonstrated in the cities of Haifa, Nazareth, Shfaram, and Tira. (Daily Sabah, ToI, ToI)
Death toll continues to mount in Gaza air-strikes
Israel’s bombing campaign in Gaza has now killed at least 67 people, including 17 children, and injured more than 388 more, according to the Gaza health ministry. Israel says at least 15 of the dead were Hamas militants.
Militants in Gaza have fired more than 1,000 rockets into Israel, injuring more than 200 Israeli civilians, according to the Israeli military. A six-year-old boy became the seventh Israeli fatality when a rocket fired from Gaza struck a residential building in Sderot.
“Stop the fire immediately. We’re escalating towards a full-scale war,” tweeted UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process Tor Wennesland. “The cost of war in Gaza is devastating & is being paid by ordinary people. UN is working w/ all sides to restore calm. Stop the violence now.”
There were reports in Israeli media of both Jewish and Arab individuals being attacked by mobs in Israeli towns and cities. They include a Jewish man who suffered injuries at the hands of Arabs in the city of Acre, and an Arab man who was dragged out of his car and beaten by a mob of Jews in Bat Yam. (CNN, BBC News)