‘They want to kick me out of Jerusalem’

Rights groups slam Israel’s decision to strip families of attackers of their Jerusalem residency.

Based on Israeli politicians' statements, there is a very high risk that families of attackers will lose the right to live in Jerusalem, said rights groups [Getty Images]
Based on Israeli politicians' statements, there is a very high risk that families of attackers will lose the right to live in Jerusalem, said rights groups [Getty Images]

Jerusalem – Ibrahim Hijazi, the 67-year-old father of Moataz Hijazi, the Palestinian suspected of attempting to assassinate right-wing activist Yehuda Glick on October 29, said he learnt “from the newspapers” that the Jerusalem residency permits of his family were “in danger of being revoked”.

However, Hijazi, whose son was shot dead by the police during the attack, remained defiant. Threatening or taking collective punitive measures, he explained, will not “prevent people from committing acts of violence”.

“If you put more pressure on us, you will get a stronger response,” Hijazi told Al Jazeera over the phone on Thursday, hours after Israel’s decision to strip families of Palestinians involved in attacks of their Jerusalem residency.

On Wednesday, Israeli Interior Minister Gilad Erdan revoked the residency of Nadia Abu Jamal, the wife of Ghassan abu Jamal, one of two cousins responsible for the November 18 synagogue attack that left five Israelis dead. Erdan said: “Everyone who is involved in terror, needs to take into account the effects it could have on family members.” 

Ghassan’s wife, a Palestinian reportedly from the East Sawahra village directly outside Israel’s separation wall in the occupied West Bank, was allowed to live with Ghassan and her three children in Jabel al-Mukkaber, a Palestinian neighbourhood in Jerusalem, under Israel’s “Family Reunification Law”.

Pending appeal, she could be deported.

Recent years have witnessed a rapid increase in the number of Jerusalem residencies revoked. In 2008, more than 4,500 Palestinians lost their Jerusalem residency, according to Israeli interior ministry figures. The number has been steadily rising since 1995.

According to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, between 1967 and 2013, Israel revoked the residency of 14,309 East Jerusalem Palestinians; in 2013, the interior ministry revoked the residency of 106 East Jerusalem Palestinians, including 50 women and 24 minors. 

The loss of residency is viewed by Palestinians as part of a wider Israeli strategy or “a silent transfer” to weaken their hold on East Jerusalem and its holy sites.

The High Court of Justice rejected an appeal to cease the policy of revoking residency.

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Nadia is not the only Palestinian resident of Israel to have her status revoked in the past week. On Sunday, Mohammed Nadi, a driver, had his permanent residency revoked over charges of being involved in a suicide bombing that took place in 2001.

During the second Palestinian Intifada, Nadi drove Saeed Hotari, from the occupied West Bank to Tel Aviv. Hotari blew himself up later in an attack which left 21 Israelis dead and scores wounded. 

Nadi was convicted of crimes including illegal transfer of a Palestinian into Israel, and being an accessory in causing severe bodily harm, and homicide. He was released from prison five years ago. Three months ago, Nadi received notice that the Minister of the Interior planned to revoke his residency.

The interior ministry’s decision has been condemned by human rights groups. Residency, according to a statement issued by B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, “is not a prize for good behaviour”

“Residency status and social security benefits are not a favour or boon granted by the authorities. It is Israel’s fundamental obligation towards all individuals living in its territory, be they citizens or permanent residents,” the statement said.

The formal phrase 'permanent residency' is misleading. This status is far from permanent, as evinced by thousands of previous cases of revocation. The only permanent thing about it is its temporary nature and instability.

- B'Tselem

The permanent resident status was created originally for immigrants “who made the choice to live in Israel”, which means that it is a status weaker than citizenship and can be easily confiscated, according to B’Tselem.

“The formal phrase ‘permanent residency’ is misleading. This status is far from permanent, as evinced by thousands of previous cases of revocation. The only permanent thing about it is its temporary nature and instability,” said the rights group.

In 1967, Israel invaded and occupied East Jerusalem during the Six Day War, annexing it in 1980.

As such, according to Oded Feller, an attorney and director of the Citizenship and Residency Programme for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Palestinians already living in Jerusalem “weren’t offered any choice since refusing to accept the proffered status resulted in a risk of deportation”, and the “termination of their right to continue living in their homes.” 

To gain citizenship, residents of East Jerusalem have to submit a special application and swear loyalty to the State of Israel. But “few follow this path”, said Feller. 

Feller pointed out that under international law, East Jerusalem is considered occupied territory, and therefore, the residency status of the people of East Jerusalem “[cannot] be conditional on allegiance”. Israel, however, has long threatened to strip Jerusalemites of their status for just that.

In another case in April 2006, following the Palestinian parliamentary elections, Israel moved to confiscate the permits allowing three parliamentarians affiliated with Hamas to reside in Israeli controlled territory. Their reasoning was that “Hamas leaders” did not condemn the attacks and “some even justified it”.

A petition was filed with the Israeli Supreme Court asking the Israeli government to allow the men to keep their status as permanent residents. A hearing is expected on December 9, lawyers working on the case told Al Jazeera.

Jerusalemites Qawasmi, one of the lawyers –  and himself a Jerusalemite with permanent resident status –  said that when Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967, “they didn’t know what to do with the Palestinian population”.

Qawasmi believes that since the “Centre of Life” policy, which stipulates that Palestinians must prove that their permanent residence is East Jerusalem, had been enacted in 1995, people are facing greater challenges. Residents have to provide documents which include rental contracts, bills, and salary stubs. Many Jerusalemites , however, have been unable to provide these documents.

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The decision of the Supreme Court  with regards to the status of the Palestinian parliamentarians will have a resounding effect on the lives of East Jerusalem residents, the lawyers said.

“There is no clear [precedent] on the matter,” said Hassan Jabareen, the founder and general director of Adalah, the Legal Centre for Arab and Minority Rights in Israel.

Jabareen holds amicus curiae status – someone who offers information to the court in order to sway its opinion but does not directly assist any party – on the case. “Many legal decisions hinge on the ruling,” he told Al Jazeera.

The decision would set a precedent on the issue of revoking citizenship and residency status for Palestinian residents of Israeli controlled territory. The Israeli law is unclear about the lawfulness of the action. 

Meanwhile, Israeli politicians appear intent on enforcing the policy against Palestinian families of attackers, a move which human rights groups described as a form of “collective punishment”.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Saturday plans to introduce a bill that would allow Israel to strip residency and benefits of families whose children are suspected of committing “acts of terror”. Nir Barkat, the mayor of Jerusalem, supports the idea. 

Jabareen believes that: “Under the current political climate, and based on [Israeli politicians’] statements, there is a very high risk” that these families might lose the right to live in Jerusalem.

Back in Hijazi’s house, his father said: “[The Israeli authorities] killed my son and they are taking my house. It’s not surprising that they now want to kick me out of Jerusalem.” 

Follow Creede on Twitter: @creedenewton

Source : Al Jazeera

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