The Danger of Revoking East Jerusalem Residency

Revocation of residency poses a dual threat not just to the residents of the East Jerusalem neighborhoods but to all citizens of the state.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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The daily reality in East Jerusalem: Palestinians wait to cross a roadblock in Isawiyah.Credit: Reuters
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

Civil rights activists raised a big outcry upon learning of Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to revoke the residency of Palestinians who live in Jerusalem neighborhoods outside the separation fence. They raised a lesser outcry a year ago when Netanyahu instructed then-Interior Minister Gilad Erdan to examine the possibility of revoking the residency of Palestinians convicted of terrorist activity or incitement to terror, along with that of their families.

Historically, revocation goes back a bit further. In 2006, then-Interior Minister Roni Bar-On revoked the residency of three Palestinian parliament members and one minister, all from East Jerusalem, when they refused to resign their posts and because Hamas leaders did not condemn a terror attack in Tel Aviv that took place shortly before, but justified it. Hardly a peep of opposition to the revocation of their residency was heard then, too. That’s how it works when rights are trampled. You start small, get the people used to it, and then you can move on to the mass phase.

But what is all the uproar about anyway? For if the annexed portions of Jerusalem are occupied territory, as defined by international law, then the residency of all 400,000 Palestinians who live in East Jerusalem should be revoked and the annexed territory should be returned in a peace agreement. Someone who wants to divide Jerusalem can’t have it both ways. But if East Jerusalem is really the prosthetic underlying the bluff known as “united Jerusalem,” all who live there, Jews and Arabs alike, should be subject to Israeli jurisdiction.

To Netanyahu’s chagrin, this Israeli law says that “this measure [revocation of residency] may only be taken if the person against whom it is being applied poses a direct security threat, a threat that may be removed by means of this measure. In any event, a person’s place of residence may not be delineated as a punitive measure, but only as a preventative measure.”

It’s practically impossible to prove that revoking a Palestinian’s residency, which means expelling him to the West Bank, will prevent him from committing a terror attack, if that is his aim. But the real folly of this approach isn’t in the lack of practical benefit that it will bring, or its unproven deterrent effect. Disregarding for a moment, as is so acceptable and comfortable, the moral problem with revoking someone’s residency, which deprives that person of an identity and rights in the territorial space in which he lives, this measure, if implemented, poses a dual threat not just to the residents of the East Jerusalem neighborhoods but to all citizens of the state.

Because now Netanyahu is trying to transform the individual, specific measure of revoking residency, which harmed a few, into a wholesale move. In the best case, tens of thousands of residents would become refugees in their own homes, and in the worst case, which is not all that far-fetched, they would be expelled from the Jewish city in which, overnight, they would become visitors without rights, as if they were tourists whose visas expired.

Okay, collective punishment of Palestinians hasn’t disturbed the Jewish soul that much lately. But what about residency in general? If the prime minister can so easily trample a basic right, or even just seriously contemplate the idea, no one in Israel, resident or citizen, Arab or Jew, can feel secure in his civil status.

Because when the justifications given for revoking residency include “incitement” or “disloyalty to the state,” why stop with the residents of East Jerusalem? The loyalty of Palestinian Israelis, Jewish leftists, lawyers who represent terrorists or Bedouin tribes from which terrorists have emerged could also be examined with the potential of revoking their citizenship. Implausible? Remember the slogan “No citizenship without loyalty”? It’s already become proposed legislation awaiting approval.

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