The rights of Arab residents

Arieh King is trying to get citizenship for one-third of the city’s population to enable them to leave the city... he hopes.

Arieh King campaigning at Mahaneh Yehuda. Does the city council owe its allegiance to its own aims or to its members’ voters? (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Arieh King campaigning at Mahaneh Yehuda. Does the city council owe its allegiance to its own aims or to its members’ voters?
About one-third of Jerusalem’s residents are Arabs. The majority of them were born after 1967, and their legal status is far from simple. They are residents and have the same rights as all Israeli residents, such as health and national insurance, public education and the right to vote in municipal elections. The last one is the least implemented; in fact it is mostly boycotted to deny Israel’s sovereignty over the city.
But unlike other residents with the same status, Arab residents lose these rights if they leave the city for more than a year. In the early 2000s, interior minister Eli Yishai (Shas) issued special measures to strengthen the rights of Arab residents, hoping thereby to reduce their number in the city and preserve the Jewish majority.
However, the result was exactly the opposite. Arab residents who tried to find better living conditions outside of the city returned here in masses, causing two things: a huge rise in the price of real estate in east Jerusalem and the need for hundreds more classrooms in the public education system, which has not been filled to this day.
Demographic changes have been somewhat surprising over the past five or six years, with a continuous increase in the Jewish birthrate, while there is a small drop in the Arab birthrate. Arab residents boycott municipal elections but continue to live in the city. They remain here despite high rentals and lack of apartments and services, to ensure their social rights but primarily to maintain their historical ties with Jerusalem.
Recently, two different ways have been put forth to deal with the difficult conditions of the Arab residents.
One is the change in the policy of the municipality, with Mayor Nir Barkat promoting a policy based on his right-wing views, namely that Jerusalem is one indivisible city and should therefore benefit from public moneys – development, growth, services – the same as for the western part of the city. Almost 50 years of neglect will not disappear overnight; but at least based on Barkat’s programs and plans, there might be a significant light at the end of that tunnel.
But the demographic issue still exists and is cause for concern for many more people than the public is aware of. In fact, following Barkat’s plans for the large improvements in the Arab sector, there is a fear that the high Arab birthrate will overtake the Jewish one.
According to sources at Safra Square, representatives of the Bayit Yehudi party are worried about this issue.
But then there is Arieh King, the indefatigable champion of redeeming ancient Jewish properties in the Arab neighborhoods, the director of the Israel Land Fund and the man behind – and more often in front of – the Judaization of east Jerusalem, who himself lives in one of those newly built Jewish neighborhoods, Ma’aleh Zeitim.
He recently announced that the State of Israel should grant all Arab residents of Jerusalem Israeli nationality to solve the demographic problems and some other issues as well. King is unpredictable, to say the least. He was – and still is – against the illegal construction of Beit Yehonatan, the seven-story building inhabited by Jewish residents in Silwan, arguing that unless this illegal building is demolished, Barkat and the Interior Ministry cannot demolish the thousands of illegal constructions in the Arab neighborhoods.
King is also enthusiastic about constructing new buildings in the Arab sector for the same reason. And now he wants to give all the 300,000 Arab residents full Israeli citizenship – this time, as the only means to enable thousands of these Arab residents to leave Jerusalem and reduce the demographic issue.
King believes that once they have full citizenship, their first interest will be to seek better living and educational conditions outside Jerusalem, as they will no longer fear losing their social rights and their residency rights in Jerusalem. King is convinced that the last thing these people would do is vote for the Knesset and eventually increase the number of Arab representatives in parliament.