Since 1967, more than 14,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem have had their status as permanent residents of Israel revoked by the state. The revocation is part of Israel’s overall policy in East Jerusalem, which is geared towards the political goal of maintaining a “demographic balance” in Jerusalem, i.e., of ensuring a 70% Jewish majority in the city. To that end, ongoing efforts are made to expand the Jewish population in the city and reduce its Palestinian population.
Ever since Israel annexed East Jerusalem and its environs in 1967, it has applied a discriminatory and restrictive policy there. This includes an absence of proper planning for Palestinian neighborhoods, which was attended by prohibitions on construction; the refusal of applications for family unification with Palestinians from other parts of the West Bank; and the denial of many basic services to the community. Over the years, the resulting harsh reality caused tens of thousands of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem to leave the city. Many of them relocated to nearby suburbs in the West Bank or to Jordan. Israel’s Ministry of the Interior did not warn that by leaving, these people were risking loss of their status as permanent residents of Israel. Many only learned after the fact that their right to return to their homes in East Jerusalem had been revoked.
In 1988, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that the status of East Jerusalem Palestinians is that of holders of permanent residency license under the “Entry into Israel Law”. This status is accorded to foreign nationals who move to Israel of their own free will and wish to reside there. By according East Jerusalem Palestinians this status, Israel treats them as immigrants without the basic right to live in their homes. Rather, they are endowed with this privilege by the state – a privilege that can be revoked at any time. This attitude does not take into account that many of these Palestinians were born in Jerusalem, have lived there for years, and have no home or legal status elsewhere. Unlike foreign nationals who choose to live in Israel, it is the State of Israel that entered East Jerusalem and applied its law there. In contrast, Jewish residents of Jerusalem, who are virtually all Israeli citizens, are in no danger of having their civil status changed, regardless of where they live in the West Bank or within Israel.
Once a person with permanent residency status leaves Israel to live elsewhere, this status is automatically revoked. However, until 1995, Israel did not usually revoke the status of East Jerusalem Palestinians who relocated to locations outside the West Bank. Those who went abroad retained their status, provided they returned to East Jerusalem within three years to have their exit permits extended by the Ministry of Interior, which did so consistently. Revocation of residency status would be considered only when persons were naturalized or granted residency status in other countries, or when they were away East Jerusalem for more than seven years without returning to extend their permits. Palestinians who relocated elsewhere in the West Bank were not required to obtain permits to leave, and years of residence in their new homes did not affect their status.
In December 1995, without prior notice, the Ministry of the Interior changed its policy, arguing that permanent residency, unlike citizenship, is a matter of daily reality, so that when that reality changes, the license to this status is no longer valid. Consequently, all East Jerusalem Palestinians who had not lived in the city for seven years or more lost their right to live there. The fact that some of them had returned over the years, and that the Ministry had regularly extended the permits of those living abroad and had provided them with other services, became meaningless. The Ministry began demanding that people supply evidence that Jerusalem is a “center of life” to them, setting a high standard of proof that required the submission of many documents, including such items as home ownership papers or a rent contract, various bills (water, electricity, municipal taxes), salary slips, proof of receiving medical care in the city, certification of children’s school registration. Palestinians failing to prove that they had lived in Jerusalem over the past seven consecutive years were forced to leave their homes, their families and their jobs. They were denied the right to live and work in Jerusalem as well as in the rest of Israel. Furthermore, they and their families were deprived of their social benefits. Their children’s status was also revoked, excepting cases in which the second parent had valid residency status.
Several human rights organization petitioned Israel’s High Court of Justice (HCJ) against this policy of “silent relocation”. Consequently, in March 2000, then-Minister of the Interior Natan Sharansky submitted an affidavit to the HCJ announcing that the policy would be cancelled. In the affidavit, the Ministry stated its intention to revert to the pre-December 1995 policy: all East Jerusalem Palestinians who return to extend their permits on time and maintain a “proper affiliation” with the State of Israel would retain their status as permanent residents, even those living in Jordan or in other countries. Moreover, permanent residency status of Jerusalem residents who had relocated to other areas in the West Bank would not be revoked, as long as they maintain the said affiliation. According to the affidavit, residency status would be restored to Palestinians whose status had been revoked since the 1995 change in policy, if they had resided for at least two years in Jerusalem. In the absence of residency status, presence in the city is in itself a violation of the law and a person so present cannot obtain work permits.
For several years, the number of status revocations dropped. However, as of 2006, the Ministry of the Interior increased the rate of revocations, peaking in 2008 at 4,577 revocations of residency status. As of 2010 the number of revocations has been declining. According to official data, the permanent residency status of more than 14,000 persons has “expired” since 1967 – including approximately 11,000 from 1996 to 2009. In 2012, the Ministry revoked the status of 116 Palestinians. In most cases relocation abroad was given as grounds for revocation; whereas, in several hundred cases, the grounds were relocation to the Occupied Territories. As yet, only several hundred Palestinians in East Jerusalem have had their permanent residency status restored.