Jerusalem police are conducting surveillance of seven voter registration offices in East Jerusalem for anticipated Palestinian Authority elections, apparently trying to prevent the voter registration drive in the city.
Four days ago, the Palestinian Authority began voter registration drives in some 1,000 precincts throughout the territories, as well as the seven in East Jerusalem. The registration is meant to serve as the voters' rolls in scheduled October local elections but would also serve as the national database of voters in case of national elections.
The seven precinct offices in East Jerusalem are in A Tur, Ras al Amud, the Old City, Beit Hanina and Shuafat.
After the voter registration drive began, Jerusalem police began keeping track of the registration offices in the city. Police showed up at the A Tur office, which is located in the nurses' school next door to Makassad Hospital. The police delivered summons to the three women on the voter registration drive committee who were operating the office, ordering them to show up at police district headquarters for questioning, and they photographed the voter registration rolls with the names of the residents who had signed up to vote.
In Shuafat, police photographed the members of the voter registration committee and the rolls with the names of the residents who had signed up to vote.
Police sources yesterday denied they are arresting anyone or confiscating any equipment or supplies but confirmed the police are "photographing and talking with the registration committee members and conducting close surveillance to make sure there is no violation of the laws for the implementation of the Oslo agreements." The sources said they are also keeping track of attempts to register Palestinian voters in their homes in the city.
In 1996, under the terms of the Oslo Accords, East Jerusalemites who held Israeli identity cards were allowed to vote in Palestinian Authority elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council and for PA president. Israeli law allows East Jerusalemites to vote in the Palestinian elections, as long as it is the PA and not the PLO that is conducting the vote.
Voter registration in villages and towns outside Jerusalem is very high, but the turnout at the seven East Jerusalem offices is very low, barely a few dozen people a day since the registration campaign began.
Official Palestinian sources attribute the low turnout for voter registration to several factors. They say the PA Election Commission deliberately chose to play down the location of the registration centers, placing only modest advertisements in the Palestinian press about the location of the Jerusalem offices. Indeed, in some cases, even the neighbors of a voter registration office did not know that the office was next door, said some Palestinian sources. Others explained that East Jerusalemites don't have the high level of political awareness that exists among the West Bankers, while some said that the East Jerusalemites have little faith in the PA and are uninterested in the vote. But all agree that the intensive Israeli police interest in the registration drive is a deterrent, because people are worried that if they are identified as registering to vote, it could lead to the Israeli government stripping them of their Israeli identity card or their social benefits.