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Ethnic Cleansing in Jerusalem, Israeli Style

By Paul Findley

Israeli authorities are carrying out a process in East Jerusalem that accurately be described as ethnic cleansing. It is plainly geared to uproot Palestinians from an area that historically has been known as Arab East Jerusalem and convert it into an integral, permanent part of the capital of the Jewish state.

The scandalous process is recognized and deplored by the major news media in Britain and elsewhere and even by some newspapers in Israel, but it is predictably ignored in the United States. Still worse, Washington provides the financial, political and military support without which the cleansing could not go forward.

B'Tselem, a private organization of Israelis concerned about human rights, calls it "a policy of quiet deportation." In its report, subtitled Revocation of Residency of East Jerusalem Palestinians, the group notes that "perhaps thousands of people have been forced to leave" and warns that the worst is still to come.

The squeeze is not new; it has been underway for years, first under Labor Party leadership, intensified by the Likud Party when Menachem Begin became prime minister, and hardened recently in two major steps, first by the government of Labor's Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, then by their Likud successor, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

The first stage was a slow, little-noticed process of attrition, during which Jewish settlements that now ring East Jerusalem were built. The next was tightening the noose against Palestinians through two measures: control of entry into the city and restriction of construction permits.

For years, Israel has virtually prohibited Palestinians from remodeling old housing or constructing new. Only a handful of building permits-about 150 a year- are divided among the 155,000 Palestinians who until recently constituted the majority population. More than 20,000 families are virtually homeless.

At the same time, Palestinians who leave east Jerusalem for any reason can expect harassment when they attempt to return. Some of them, even those who have lived in Jerusalem all their lives, are denied re-entry.

Those who left for holidays sometimes find it impossible to return. Families are divided, some members are able to stay in East Jerusalem and others kept out.

Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem are exempt from municipal taxes for five years and then benefit from a reduced rate. Because of this bias, Palestinians living there pay taxes that are five times higher than many settlers.

The effect of these demographic pincers is rising anger, despair, and violence-or, as Israeli officials always characterize it, "terrorism."

The real terrorism is inflicted on the Palestinians, who live in constant fear of bulldozers leveling their homes without anything remotely resembling due process, eviction on the pretext that home repairs were made without proper permits, or confiscation for road construction or other public purposes.

And the latest form of terrorism is the voiding of Palestinian identity cards. Before Shimon Peres left the office of prime minister, he had already begun the use of identity cards-or lack thereof-as the main instrument of deportation from East Jerusalem. Under Netanyahu, the instrument has become razor sharp. It now threatens to sever much of the remaining population of Palestinians from their homelands.

The Israeli Interior Ministry says that all identity cards must be renewed by August of this year, a deadline that will give officials almost unlimited opportunity to refuse renewal and force Palestinians on short notice to move elsewhere in the West Bank.

Patrick Cookburn of the Independent a respected London newspaper, writes, "In two months' time, in a move likely to have more effect on the fate of Jerusalem than the building of a Jewish settlement at Jabal Abu Ghneim, Israel will start a meticulous examination of the right of every Palestinian resident to remain in the city. Those who are not issued the coveted Jerusalem identity card will have 15 days to leave."

The independent recites grim experiences that are likely to be replicated thousands of times in the next few weeks. For example: "Olga Matri Hana Yoaqim, 63, who has seven children, was born in Bethlehem but has lived in [Jerusalem] with her husband since 1952. 'In September 1995 I went to replace my identity card at the Interior Ministry office in East Jerusalem,' she aid. The clerk cut up her card and told her to come back in two weeks. When Mrs. Yoaqim returned, the clerk told her, 'You don't have an identity card. Co to the West Bank.'

"Her husband went back to the ministry 20 times but was refused. Mrs. Yoaqim said, 'I suffer from diabetes and have kidney problems. When I go to a clinic or hospital, they want to see my identity card. Because I have none, I can't receive treatment.'"

Even Palestinians who have moved from the Old City to adjoining suburbs are in deep trouble. B'Tselem reports, "Some 18 months ago, the Interior Ministry began to revoke the residency status of persons who moved outside the municipal borders of Jerusalem."

Palestinian residency problems began the moment Israeli forces took control of East Jerusalem in the June 1967 war. Over 50,000 Palestinians have been denied permanent residency rights because they were away from home in June 1967, for whatever reason, or moved, even temporarily, to a different location.

Young people often find their residency rights blocked when they attempt to return from attending schools overseas. Only Palestinians bearing proof that they, or their parents, have resided in East Jerusalem since 1967 can move freely to and from the city, and now even that right is in jeopardy. The Palestinians may enter East Jerusalem only if they receive special permits from Israeli authorities.

This policy sharply restricts religious practice, as a practical matter blocking most Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza from visiting holy places in Jerusalem.

It stands as a cynical reversal of Israel's long-proclaimed guarantee that all people will have free access to religious places in Jerusalem. A civil rights attorney, Eliahu Abrams, put it bluntly: " It is a true crisis in human rights. Israel is forcibly getting rid of Palestinians not by pulling them out by the hair, but by quiet, slow, sophisticated deportation."

He says the "essence of the new policy is to demand that all Palestinians who cannot give documentary proof that they have always lived in Jerusalem must leave. According to The Independent, Israeli officials sometimes demand as many as 12 different documents before a Palestinian can secure a new identity card.



Former Congressman Paul Findley (R-IL) is the chairman of the Council for the National Interest.




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