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Palestinians pushed out of Jerusalem


Following a brief meeting with the hospital’s director, Hadas Ziv and Salah Haj Yihyee from Physicians for Human Rights entered the maternity ward. The activists didn’t waste any time and began interviewing mothers who had just given birth in the East Jerusalem hospital. They inquired, for instance, if the state had paid the hospital bills -- as required by Israel’s national health plan -- and quickly learned that many of the women were denied this and other rights.

Denying Palestinian mothers their rights is only the latest manifestation of Israel’s attempt to consolidate its sovereignty over the holy city, and it is not unconnected to other recent events like the imminent construction of a Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem’s Har Homa.

Following the 1967 War, Israel -- in violation of international law -- annexed East Jerusalem and applied Israeli law to an area of some 70 square kilometers. Subsequently, the government introduced a policy whose objective was to maintain a Jewish majority in the city; the goal was to reduce the number of Palestinian residents.

According to “The Quiet Deportation,” a report published by two Israeli rights groups, Hamoked and B’tselem, this policy is characterized by “systematic and deliberate discrimination against the Palestinian population in East Jerusalem in all matters relating to land expropriation, planning and building.”

The report discloses that while 38,500 housing units were built on land expropriated from the Palestinians, not one was allotted to Palestinians. Overall, 64,870 dwellings were built for Jews in Jerusalem, in contrast to the 8,890 units Palestinians were allowed to build; it is estimated that there is a current shortage of over 20,000 houses in the city’s eastern part. Consequently, housing density in over 30 percent of Palestinian homes exceeds three people per room, as compared with 1.7 percent in Jewish households.

For many Palestinians the only way to solve this housing problem was to relocate. Thousands moved to the West Bank, while many migrated to Jordan and other Arab countries. Periodically, these Palestinians would return to renew their exit permits and thus retain their legal status as Jerusalem residents; Israel, so it seemed, was satisfied with this “arrangement” for it accomplishes the desired end, namely a reduction of the Palestinian population in the city.

Three years ago the policy was changed. The implementation of the Oslo Accords began and it was clear that negotiations concerning Jerusalem’s final status would eventually have to take place. Laying the groundwork for the talks, the Israeli government fabricated a scheme to legalize what it had already achieved de facto. Accordingly, the Interior Ministry began revoking the legal status of all residents who had lived for a number of years abroad.

For the purpose of this policy alone the governing Likud party, which is a fervent advocate of the greater Jewish state, characterized the West Bank as “outside of Israel.”

The new policy took Palestinians by surprise. In “Quiet Deportation” one reads that Palestinians who visit the Interior Ministry for any reason whatsoever are “liable to receive notification that their permanent residency permit has expired. They must then return their identity card and leave Israel within 15 days. Other family members (children and spouse) whose residency rights depended on the person are also expelled.”

Since this policy took effect, thousands of Palestinians who were born and raised in Jerusalem and whose family has resided in the city for generations, have been uprooted from their homes.

Once a resident is removed from the population registry, his or her right to economic and social services, including the right to health care is revoked. According to Hadas Ziv of Physicians for Human Rights, the policy of “silent transfer” exposes Israel’s bogus claim that “all infants have access to trained health care.”

“In East Jerusalem,” Ziv said, “Palestinian infant mortality rate is 12.7 per 1,000, almost double the 7.4 per 1,000 rate of Jewish infants in the city.”

This situation could be alleviated if health care were equally accessible to every resident, Ziv said. She adds that many newborn infants in East Jerusalem do not receive free health care until their parents have gone through the arduous task of proving that they have never lived outside the municipal borders. The process of documenting that one’s “center of life” is in Jerusalem often takes over a year, and it is not uncommon for residents to be asked to supply evidence that they have, for example, paid city taxes for the past decade or two. Jews, by contrast, receive the benefits -- no questions asked.

In the maternity ward we heard many stories. One of the new mothers was a Muslim Jerusalemite, who, after getting married, had moved with her husband to the neighboring city of Rammallah. As a result she was denied the right to receive health insurance, free hospitalization, a birth grant and child annuity. By contrast, if my spouse were living outside Israel but had given birth in Jerusalem, she would have received these benefits.

Israel’s conquest of East Jerusalem is sowing dragon’s teeth for the future. There is a grim irony here. The government’s policy of expulsion and dispossession is inspired in part by its desire to dominate that which is holy. But, as I have argued before, holiness and domination are mutually exclusive; territorial aggrandizement in the city will produce nothing but hatred and hostility.

If Israel is sincerely interested maintaining Jerusalem’s unique ethos, it must radically change its approach. When the government is finally serious about the holiness of Jerusalem, it will come to understand that only dialogue between different peoples and religions can advance this goal. Instead of thinking in terms of a united Jerusalem under one sovereignty, Israel should propose a program in which sovereignty is shared. Only then will we be blessed with peace.

Neve Gordon writes from Jerusalem.

National Catholic Reporter, March 12, 1999