'Stop Interior Ministry from revoking Arabs’ residency'

Two human rights groups file a petition with the Supreme Court to end ministry’s ability to revoke the residency status of e. J'lem residents.

By MELANIE LIDMAN
April 8, 2011 03:41
3 minute read.
The east Jerusalem neighborhood Silwan.

311_Silwan houses. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

 
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Two human rights organizations filed a petition with the Supreme Court on Thursday to end the Interior Ministry’s ability to revoke the residency status of east Jerusalem residents.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, and Hamoked: The Center for the Defense of the Individual, claim there has been a sharp increase in the number of east Jerusalemites who have had their residency revoked over the past decade.

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According to their research, an average of 109 people had their residency revoked between 1967 and 1995. In 1996, that number jumped to 739 – then to 1,067 the following year.

In the ensuing years, the number of residency revocations fluctuated between a few hundred, to a thousand. However in 2008 – the most recent year for data – 4,577 people from east Jerusalem had their residency revoked.

Arabs living in neighborhoods in Jerusalem that are over the Green Line are considered “residents” rather than “citizens” of Israel. They hold blue Israeli identity cards, but cannot vote in national elections.

Arab residents can also have their residency revoked for spending significant periods of time abroad for work or school, or by gaining residency in another country.

Hamoked claims that the Interior Ministry is enacting a “Quiet Deportation” of Arab residents from east Jerusalem by using residency revocations as a “brutal and destructive bureaucratic tool.”



Sabine Haddad, the spokeswoman for the Interior Ministry’s Population, Immigration, and Border Authority, said that the ministry operates “according to the law, and not according to interpretations.”

She added that the Ministry would uphold whatever the court decided.

According to Hamoked, the Interior Ministry’s interpretation of residency stems from a 1988 court ruling in the Awad case – which found that although Israel gave permanent residency status to east Jerusalem inhabitants, this residency can be revoked if there is a transfer of “center-of-life.”

East Jerusalemites who want to maintain their residency must return frequently to prove that the city remains their “center-of-life.”

ACRI and Hamoked argue that east Jerusalem residents should not lose their residency status – even after living abroad for significant periods of time, or gaining another residency – based on international humanitarian laws.

The organizations also noted that “abroad” includes the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

This issue makes it particularly difficult for east Jerusalem residents who marry someone from the West Bank.

Because the spouse cannot gain Jerusalem residency, east Jerusalemites who choose to live in the West Bank with their spouses could risk losing their own residency, and thus be barred from visiting their family and home in east Jerusalem.

Both Hamoked and ACRI have been unsuccessful in previous attempts through the courts to regain the residency status for someone who has had it revoked because the revocation has always been found to be legal, given the current laws.

With this petition, they are attempting to change the policy itself. The current petition was filed on behalf of 26-year-old Silwan resident Muhammed Qua’ari, who does not have plans to travel abroad, but who would nevertheless be affected by the current law if he did want to travel abroad.

“The wholesale revocations of residency permits of east Jerusalem residents clearly contradicts international law, according to which every person has the right to return to their homeland regardless of civil status,” said Hamoked attorney Leora Bechor. “The Palestinian residents of Jerusalem are ‘protected residents,’ with the right to continue living in the place they were born, and to return as they wish.”

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