Palestinian Voters in Jerusalem Elections Have Six Polling Stations. Jews Have 187

Although most East Jerusalem Palestinians don't participate in elections, 'What this means is that you’re depriving the few who do want to vote of the right to do so,' an expert says

A voting in East Jerusalem for the 2013 local elections.
Emil Salman / Jini

The Interior Ministry plans to open only six polling stations in Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem during October’s municipal elections, compared with 187 in Jewish neighborhoods, even though East Jerusalem contains 40 percent of the city’s population.

Altogether, East Jerusalem has some 360,000 residents.

The list of polling booths has been published on the website of the ministry’s supervisor of municipal elections.

Since Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1967, the ministry has opened few polling stations in the east because Palestinian residents have boycotted municipal elections in huge numbers. (They are ineligible to vote in Knesset elections because they are permanent residents, not citizens.)

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In the last municipal elections in 2013, only slightly more than 1 percent of eligible Palestinians voted. This time around, the ministry has thus allotted only 3 percent of the polling stations to those neighborhoods.

This means that even a Palestinian who wants to vote will find it very hard to do so. Whereas each polling station in Jewish neighborhoods will serve an average of 2,000 eligible voters, in Palestinian neighborhoods the number will be 40,000.

Moreover, three of the six allotted polling stations are in the southern neighborhood of Beit Safafa, where half the residents are Israeli citizens, since the pre-1967 border cuts straight through the neighborhood. The other three will be in the Old City and the Sheikh Jarrah and Jabal Mukkaber neighborhoods, and each of those will serve an average of 80,000 eligible voters.

The remaining Palestinian neighborhoods will have no polling stations, even though tens of thousands of people live there. These include neighborhoods east of the separation barrier, which have about 100,000 residents.

Thus for many Palestinians, the nearest polling station will be at least 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) from their home.

Another difference is the number of voting booths per polling station. In Jewish neighborhoods, each polling station will have an average of 3.5 booths. But because there are so few Palestinian stations, the Abdullah Ibn Hussein School in Sheikh Jarrah, for instance, will have no fewer than 75 booths – none of which will be handicapped-accessible.

The only Palestinian voting booths that do have handicapped access will be in Beit Safafa.

“When you deal with numbers, you sometimes become cynical,” said Yair Assaf-Shapira, a researcher at the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research, which analyzed the list of polling stations.

“But you look at this figure and you check it again and again and you can’t believe what you’re seeing. The fact that they don’t vote apparently serves as a good pretext for preventing them from voting. What this means is that you’re depriving the few who do want to vote of the right to do so.”

This year, for the first time in decades, a Palestinian ticket is even running in the municipal elections. The slate, called Jerusalem for Jerusalemites, is headed by Ramadan Dabash, a resident of the Sur Baher neighborhood.

Dabash has urged Palestinian Jerusalemites to vote in order to improve their lot. But the Palestinian Authority and other Palestinian political groups have urged East Jerusalem residents to uphold the boycott, and the council of Palestinian muftis has issued a religious ruling declaring that voting in the municipal elections is prohibited.