Israel’s legal policy in Jerusalem since 1967 has been guided by political considerations designed to maintain what Israel calls a “demographic balance” in the city. By a “demographic balance,” the occupation authorities mean a solid Jewish majority in Jerusalem. To this end, the “Israeli government” and the “Jerusalem municipality” have enacted various laws and policies that drive Palestinians away from the city. Policies regulating Palestinian residency and citizenship rights are among the most egregious.
The Israeli government granted what they call “permanent” residency status to the Palestinian residents of occupied Jerusalem after the 1967 war. Unlike full citizens of Israel, they cannot vote in national elections, have no passport and, as Palestinians, they remain stateless. According to Steven Beck, Director of International Relations at the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, “they live in a legal no-man’s land.”2 While the Israeli Law of Return of 1959 grants full citizenship rights to Jewish immigrants who had no prior connection to Israel, Palestinians have been stripped of their status and denied their international right of return.3
Despite what the name suggests, permanent residency status is not at all permanent. Since 1967, more than 14,000 Palestinians in the eastern part of occupied Jerusalem have had their status as permanent residents of Israel revoked in order to maintain the “demographic balance” of Jerusalem. Until 1995, Israel rarely revoked the status of Jerusalem Palestinians who relocated to locations outside Jerusalem. Those who moved abroad retained their status, provided they returned to the eastern part of Jerusalem every three years to have their exit permits extended by the Ministry of Interior. Palestinians with permanent residency status would only lose their status if they were naturalized or granted residency status in other countries, or if they did not return to Jerusalem to extend their permits for a period of seven or more years. Between 1967 and 1995, Palestinians with permanent residency status who moved elsewhere in the West Bank were not required to obtain permits to leave Jerusalem, and even several years of residence in their homes outside of Jerusalem did not affect their status as permanent residents.4
Things changed radically after 1995. In that year, the Ministry of the Interior began demanding that people supply evidence that Jerusalem is their “centre of life.” To prove this, people with permanent residency status are required to submit numerous documents, including home ownership papers or a rent contract, various bills (water, electricity, municipal taxes), salary slips, proof that they received medical care in the city, and certification of children’s school registration. Palestinians failing to prove that they have lived in Jerusalem over the past seven years according to these standards are forced to leave their homes, families and jobs. They are denied the right to live and work in Jerusalem. They and their families are deprived of social benefits because a child’s status is revoked when their parents lose permanent residency.5
Officially named The Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law (Temporary Order), this law is a tool used by the occupation authorities to limit the number of Palestinians in Jerusalem. It means that residency status for children born outside of Jerusalem, or spouses and children who are not residents or citizens of Israel, are frequently denied status. Unregistered Palestinian children in Jerusalem are forced to live in legal limbo, forgoing free public health and education services. Since 2003, family reunification in Jerusalem between Jerusalem Palestinians and their spouses and children from the West Bank or Gaza Strip is prohibited under Israeli law. Many Palestinian families leave Jerusalem to avoid forced separation.6