Jerusalem Residency Concerns Resurface

At the end of last month, it was reported that the Ministry of Interior had begun implementing a new policy in Jerusalem that is causing concern, if not panic, among residents.

Under this new policy, discovered by residents in the normal course of business, ID cards issued to Palestinian residents of Jerusalem (when they replace an old one or apply for a new one), now include, for the first time since 1967, a note that the legal status of the card holder is “permanent resident.” In addition, the new ID cards include an expiration date – a date that some Palestinian residents of the city fear may not only indicate the expiration of the validity of the card, but the intended expiration of the validity of their status as permanent residents of the city.

As noted by Amira Hass, who broke the story: “first of all an ‘all-clear’ signal: Those two additions appear not only on the new ID cards of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, but on every new ID card, due to new regulations that were passed in May 2012 and that took effect on July 1st of this year. They also require replacing the card if it is tattered or if there has been a change in the personal information. The expiration date has no connection to status. The status of a permanent resident, like that of a citizen, is not canceled when the ID card expires.”

Nonetheless, even while these regulations are innocent in their intent, they could well be very problematic their implementation, even in the absence of malice (which the Palestinians can never rule out). In this particular case, Palestinian anxiety over what the new policy could mean for their residency rights in Jerusalem is by no means unfounded, given the longstanding efforts under various Israel governments to exploit bureaucratic measures and to erect special hurdles designed to strip Palestinians of their residency rights.

As Hass observes: “The panic surrounding the obligation to renew ID cards every 10 years is a reminder of the perilous situation of all Palestinians under Israeli rule, including Jerusalemites and Palestinians who are citizens of the state. They are all living in the shadow of a constant threat on the part of the authorities: a home will be demolished, a policeman will harass, a document will be revoked, land will be confiscated, families and friends will be cut off from one another, a livelihood will be lost due to the lack of a travel permit, a judge will hand down a disproportionate punishment, a person will be killed or injured by representatives of ‘law and order’ or by civilians, the Knesset will pass a new hostile, discriminatory law.”

Hass’s suspicions are well founded. An Israeli who mistakenly leaves his or her identity card in a shirt pocket and destroys it in the laundry simply has a new photo taken, fills out a form, waits on line for a half an hour – and receives a new ID card.

A Palestinian in the identical circumstances will be required to collate copious documentation to re-establish, virtually from scratch, his or her attachment to the city, presence in the city, and, indeed, his or her very right to remain. This is a Sisyphean process that can take many months, if not years.

Thus, for almost all Israelis the new regulations will be at worst a minor nuisance; for the Palestinians in East Jerusalem they will be another major burden, and a compelling reminder that their rights in Jerusalem hang by a thread.