In First, Israel Grants Housing Rights to East Jerusalem Palestinians

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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The Givat Hamatos neighborhood, last year.
The Givat Hamatos neighborhood, last year.Credit: Emil Salman
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

For the first time, Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, over 90 percent of whom are not Israeli citizens, will be eligible for a lottery for subsidized government housing.

The lottery was previously open only to Israeli citizens.

In October the government changed its policy after Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem's Beit Safafa neighborhood filed a legal challenge against residential construction in the new adjacent neighborhood of Givat Hamatos, saying that as Arabs they would face dscrimination if they sought housing there.

Spurred by the serious housing shortage in East Jerusalem, many Palestinian families could enter the lottery in Givat Hamatos and perhaps in other neighborhoods as well.

Givat Hamatos, last year.Credit: Emil Salman

After years of delays due to opposition by the U.S. government to the development of Givat Hamatos, in 2020 Israel issued requests for proposals to build 1,257 housing units in the neighborhood. Givat Hamatos lies beyond Israel's 1967 borders, and both Washington and the international community object to its construction.

Givat Hamatos will completely cut off Beit Safafa from Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem and surround it with Jewish ones.

The decision to go ahead with the development of the neighborhood and to invite bids on residential construction there came in the final days of the Trump administration, and was seen on the political left as an effort to establish “facts on the ground” prior to the Biden administration’s taking office.

After the bidding process ended, Aviv Tatarsky, a researcher for the Israeli nonprofit group Ir Amim, which advocates for what it calls “a more equitable and sustainable city for Israelis and Palestinians” in Jerusalem, said the plan to build Givat Hamatos would discriminate against the Palestinian residents of Beit Safafa.

The plan calls for 40 percent of the housing in Givat Hamatos to be offered at below-market rates by the Housing Ministry. It is part of a new ministry program providing subsidized housing by lottery, but it was initially open only to Israeli citizens.

Since Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War, fewer than 10 percent of the 350,000 Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem have acquired Israeli citizenship. The rest have permanent resident status.

When the Israel Land Authority failed to respond when Ir Amin contacted it on the matter, the organization filed a petition in Jerusalem District Court challenging the policy on behalf of 24 Palestinian residents of the city. The petition argued that limiting participation in the lottery to Israeli citizens would deny equal rights to permanent residents of East Jerusalem.

After the petition was filed, the Israeli government said it would open the lottery to permanent residents of East Jerusalem. Judge Einat Avman-Muller dismissed the petition in the wake of the government's offer, but ruled that it had been justified and contributed to the shift in the government’s policy.

She ordered the state to pay 5,000 shekels ($1,600) in expenses to the petitioners, but denied other requests they made, including a demand to publish the change in policy in Arabic and to set aside some of the new apartments in Givat Hamatos for residents of Beit Safafa.

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