E. J'lem Residents Lose Civil Status at Rapid Rate

The number of East Jerusalem residents whose permanent residency status has been revoked has surged by more than six times in one year, according to Interior Ministry data made available to B'Tselem, a human rights group. The ministry attributes this in part to "growing efficiency."

In 2005 the number of residencies revoked stood at 222, while by 2006 the number rose to 1,363. This is the highest number of revoked permanent residency permits since the policy was introduced in 1995.

Permanent status grants East Jerusalem residents most of the privileges enjoyed by Israeli citizens. The status can be revoked for taking up residence in the Palestinian Authority or abroad.

The policy of mass revocations has been in place for more than a decade. It began in 1995, toward the end of Eli Suissa's tenure as director of the Jerusalem District at the Interior Ministry.

It heightened when he was appointed interior minister in 1996, when his party, Shas, joined the coalition government of Benjamin Netanyahu.

Suissa was instrumental in making it harder for East Jerusalem residents to acquire construction permits, causing a serious housing shortage among Arabs in the city. This forced many Jerusalem Arabs to seek housing elsewhere, losing their permanent residency status.

The peak years of this policy were 1996 (739 permits revoked), 1997 (1,067 permits) and 1998 (788 permits). When Natan Sharansky was interior minister from 1999 to 2000, the number of revoked residence permits dropped, and has leveled at 200 to 300 per year.

The Interior Ministry has based its policy of revoking permanent status on a Supreme Court ruling in 1988 by its former president, Justice Aharon Barak.

In the case of Palestinian-American psychologist Mubarak Awad, Barak set the precedent on the argument that permanent status - unlike naturalization - "is an expression of the reality of a permanent stay." Barak also noted that When that reality of permanent residence is no longer applicable, the status "cancels itself."

In response to a request by B'Tselem, Shalom Benamo, who is in charge of releasing information to the public at the Interior Ministry, said that "most of the [cases] between 2005 and 2006 involved people who immigrated abroad and acquired foreign citizenship."

The rest of the cases are the result of individuals living outside Jerusalem for seven years, Benamo said.

He also noted that in 2000, in a document that came to be known as "The Sharansky Declaration," any person who has maintained "links" to the city is recognized as retaining permanent status.

A single visit to Israel every three years is considered sufficient to maintain links to the city, and therefore permanent residency status.

In a B'Tselem question regarding a possible change in the policy and interpretation of the Sharansky Declaration, Benamo said that "there is no fundamental change in the Interior Ministry's policy on this issue.

The rise in the number of revocations stems from growing efficiency at the office, and better supervision of borders."

B'Tselem demands that the policy of revoking residency status cease, arguing that it breaches international law.