A few months ago while writing about the occupation as a whole, I started researching East Jerusalem in all of its complexities. Most of what I found then I didn’t post, so in honor of Jerusalem Day, I’ve decided to share my findings.
To start, East Jerusalem was conquered in 1967 during the Six Day War from Transjordan and (all but) formally annexed soon after.
What does “all but formally annexed” mean?
It means that Israel passed laws to extend the municipal borders of Jerusalem in order to include East Jerusalem within the city’s boundaries. But Israel did not annex East Jerusalem, as it fought against the language of “annex” (סיפוח) or “sovereignty” (ריבונות). To quote Abba Eban, “The term ‘annexation’ is out of place. The measures adopted related to the integration of Jerusalem in the administrative and municipal spheres and furnish a legal basis for the protection of the Holy Places.”
Abba Eban said they were pushing the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem in order to protect holy places, but the borders of Israel stayed the same excluding East Jerusalem.
Another (more legal, less political) indicator that Israel hasn’t annexed East Jerusalem is seen in the case of Ruidi vs. Hebron Military Tribunal. Ruidi was an antiquities dealer who brought antiquities from Hebron, in the West Bank, to his store in East Jerusalem. The tribunal arrested him and charged him with illegally exporting antiquities. Exporting antiquities is illegal under Jordanian law, which is one of the legal systems that the army applied in the West Bank, and the prosecutors argued that he had imported antiquities into Israel from The West Bank.
The judges ruled that what Ruidi did was illegal. But their reasoning wasn’t that East Jerusalem is considered Israel. In their decision, Justice Vitkon rejected that expanding law and administration over a territory is equivalent to annexation, and instead interpreted Jordanian law in a manner in which the taking of antiquities out of an area where Jordanian law applies was illegal. Justice Vitkon and Justice Haim Cohen explicitly said that the court could not define East Jerusalem as annexed territory.
These two examples indicate that Israel hasn’t annexed East Jerusalem, rather the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem were pushed outside of its self-defined national borders.
So how does this affect the status of the residents?
Since the residents now live within the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem, but not within the national boundaries of Israel, they were given Jerusalem Residency but not Israeli Citizenship. This, in theory, gives them most of the rights of a Jerusalem resident including electricity, water, public bussing, zoning, socialized medicine, work allowance, etc.
Despite this, East Jerusalem is far from on-par with West Jerusalem in many respects, such as education, electricity, water, public transportation, sewage, zoning, etc. Here is an infographic, and two different reports.
In theory, there should be no difference between East and West Jerusalem in infrastructure and standard of living since Jerusalem residents live in both. In practice we are very far from that reality.
In addition to this awkward and unofficially unequal status of East Jerusalemites, Israel has a history of stripping the residency of East Jerusalemites and continues to do so today. For example, if they live abroad for over 7 years or take another citizenship, their residency will be revoked. The Israeli Ministry of Interior shows how they view holders of these residency statuses in the following statement:
“The Minister of Interior is of the opinion that granting a permit to reside in Israel is not to be taken lightly, as if it grants rights and creates a type of status, and it is known that in any case, foreigners have no inherent right to receive it, as is customary throughout the world, as this honorable court has frequently held.” source
In other words, from the viewpoint of The Ministry of Interior, the East Jerusalemite status of a permanent resident isn’t considered a right rather a privilege, and a privilege that Israel can revoke. East Jerusalemites are, in their words, “foreigners”. The ability to revoke their status is unlike normal citizenship as a government can not simply revoke a citizen’s citizenship.
This isn’t theory rather the practice that has been happening since ‘67. In 2014, 107 East Jerusalemites were stripped of their status. In 2013 the status of 106 East Jerusalemites were revoked. In total, 14,481 residencies were revoked since 1967 peaking at 4,577 in 2008 source.
An East Jerusalemite, though, is allowed to request full Israeli citizenship. The criteria is swearing allegiance to the state, proving you have no other citizenships, and showing some knowledge of Hebrew. East Jerusalemites requests of citizenship have been on the rise; in 2003 there were 128 applications and in 2015 there was 1,435 source.
While East Jerusalemites may request citizenship, Israel can deny them. Israel’s acceptance rate has gone down from 31.25% in 2003 to 2.22% in 2015 source.
This inequality and discrepancy between East and West Jerusalem is particularly pertinent as today is Jerusalem day; a day which is meant to celebrate the supposed unity of Jerusalem after years of division. As is Jewish tradition to end things with a prayer for Jerusalem; May next Jerusalem Day be the first in which there is truth in the celebrations of unity between people, peoples, and the city itself.