Aug 17 2000

Jerusalem’s citizenship offer

Published by at 12:00 am under Articles,Palestinian politics

The grand mufti of Jerusalem didn’t have to reissue his fatwa (decree) to Palestinians living in Jerusalem not to accept Israeli citizenship, which he said, would ‘legitimize the Israeli occupation.’

Although the Israeli media has been exaggerating the fact that Palestinians are lining up asking for Israeli passports, the truth is far from that.

If the Ministry of Interior is correct 198 Palestinians applied for citizenship last year – and only 13 were approved. Although this number is said to be double the number the previous year, which stood at 98, these numbers are insignificant compared to the Palestinian population of East Jerusalem, which according to the Israelis stands over 180,000.

All one has to do is look at the numbers of Israeli identity cards that were withdrawn from Palestinians in Jerusalem (reaching over 1,000 two years ago) to understand that insignificance of the numbers applying. I am sure that the fact that only 13 applications were accepted shows that most of those who applied for citizenship were not doing it because of a newly discovered love for Zion but rather as a means of solving one of the many problems facing Arabs living in Jerusalem.

Palestinians with Jerusalem IDs are constantly threatened that they will lose their right to live in Jerusalem if the ‘center of their lives” is not in the holy city. But if one has an Israeli passport, he or she can live anywhere and still have the right to be treated as a resident and not a visitor to their own city.

The Israeli myth that Palestinians want Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem has been exaggerated by Jerusalem mayor Ehud Olmert, who has called on his government to establish 20 offices of the Ministry of Interior, whose job would be to issue automatic citizenship to those who requested it. At present Palestinians living in Jerusalem are not guaranteed citizenship, even though they have permanent residency.

Mr. Olmert’s offer is welcomed. Having 20 offices in East Jerusalem will serve two important purposes. First and foremost it would relieve the present overcrowding at the only Interior Ministry office in Jerusalem.

Lawyers tell me that young Jerusalem residents are charging 200 shekels just to stand in line starting from early hours of the morning for busy people.

But more than relieving the overcrowding, opening up 20 offices will once and for all end the mistaken Israeli belief that Arabs in Jerusalem prefer their rule to the rule of the Palestinian Authority.

Palestinians living in Jerusalem want the most basic right anyone could ask for: the right to determine their own future, to be ruled by their own leaders and not by a foreign military power. The Arabs of Jerusalem want to be part of the Palestinian entity, which connects them to the rest of the Arab world. Shortly after 1967 Israel attempted to impose its own educational curriculum on schools in Jerusalem and the schools of the city witnessed the biggest exodus ever.

The Israelis had to quickly reverse their own decision. The Jerusalem Arabs have a connection with Palestine that spans business, religion, culture, sports, health, commerce, tourism as well as family.

This is not to say that Jerusalem’s residents haven’t benefited from having an Israeli ID. While the taxes in Jerusalem are much more than those in Ramallah or Hebron, the people living in Jerusalem are granted social benefits that includes national health insurance, grants for childbirth, child unemployment and old age benefits. The Palestinian Authority is beginning an intensive study as to how it can provide Palestinians from Jerusalem with similar social benefits once they come under Palestinian rule.

There is therefore no need to convince Palestinians in Jerusalem to become Israeli citizens.

The past 33 years have proven even to members of the cabinet that East Jerusalem has not been united to West Jerusalem despite the removal of the walls separating the two parts.

Instead of living in the myth that Palestinians want their rule, the Israeli government and the municipality will be better advised to give up its sovereignty over both the people and the lands of East Jerusalem.

At the same time there is no problem with both sides seeking to find the proper security and administrative policies that will make the lives of Palestinians, Israelis, and visitors to the holy city as easy as possible.

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