Palestinian Vying for Jerusalem City Council Perseveres Despite Violence Against His Campaign

East Jerusalem Arabs traditionally boycott Israeli municipal elections, but Ramadan Dabash is carrying on despite the assaults on young people canvassing for him

Ramadan Dabash, an East Jerusalem Palestinian running for the city council, March 2018.
Emil Salman

The sole Palestinian heading a slate for the Jerusalem City Council, Ramadan Dabash, is staying in the race despite threats from within his community and violence against his campaign workers.

Israel's municipal elections will be held on October 30.

This week a young Palestinian who was handing out pro-Dabash leaflets in the Wadi Joz neighborhood was attacked by a local man; the campaign worker was taken to the hospital. At least two other volunteers have been threatened by local Palestinians.

Dabash’s decision to run breaks the traditional election boycott; most East Jerusalem Arabs have shunned the municipal elections since Israel took East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War.

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Most East Jerusalem Palestinians are not Israeli citizens, so they cannot vote in national elections; even then, most with citizenship do not vote.

“I’m always optimistic,” Dabash said. “In general, I’m receiving good responses, despite the minority that opposes me.”

A second Palestinian candidate in the Jerusalem race, Aziz Abu Sarah, quit because of pressure from Palestinian groups. Dabash, the chairman of the community administration of the Sur Baher neighborhood, has yet to release his slate of candidates running with him.

Voter turnout for East Jerusalem Arabs in local elections has been under 10 percent, except for 1968, 1978 and 1983, says attorney Daniel Seideman, who has collected data on the issue. In the last three elections, voter turnout was only a few percent, and in the last election five years ago, it fell below 1 percent, Seideman says.

In previous elections, a few Palestinians tried to run for the city council, but they always withdrew because of threats or violence against them and their supporters. Unlike Dabash, none of the previous candidates ran a real election campaign.

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In recent days, Dabash has sent 20 young Palestinians to pass out tens of thousands of campaign brochures, and he aims to distribute 200,000 leaflets. One plank in the platform is to build more schools.

A senior campaign aide said most of the people passing out the leaflets have not fallen victim to violence, even those in areas considered very sensitive such the Damascus Gate area. But in neighborhoods on the far side of the separation barrier, campaign workers have sufficed with passing out flyers at checkpoints.

The campaign official said that, in addition to this week’s violent incident, a volunteer was thrown out of the Isawiyah neighborhood, and a female volunteer was threatened.

“They told her: ‘This campaign will end in 20 days, but you've burned your life forever.’ Still, she's continuing with the work,” the campaign official said.

“There are people who are responding positively and giving us a boost, saying the time has come. And there are people who say it’s forbidden and it’s normalization: [The Israelis] are killing us and you’re supporting them.”

The official requested anonymity, but he says he isn’t afraid. “It’s a matter of viewpoint,” he said. “We’re part of this city. You pay property tax and I pay property tax, so why don’t we deserve to vote? The time has come to make a breakthrough.”