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Jerusalem’s ‘center of life’ policy imprisons Palestinians

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Palestinians drinking coffee by a new section of the wall in Shuafat refugee camp, December 2011. (Photo: Anne Paq/ActiveStills)

“Amir Salima, 21, from the Old City of Jerusalem, has no legal status – not in Israel, not in the Palestinian Authority and not anywhere else,” writes Nir Hasson in today’s Haaretz. “He has no identity card, no passport, he cannot register for university studies, apply for a job, sign up for an HMO or open a bank account. He cannot visit the West Bank or anywhere else outside of Jerusalem. In fact, he can barely leave his house, for fear of being caught by the police.”

Due to Jerusalem’s residency revoking “center of life” policy, Salima who lives in the old city is not a legal resident of Jerusalem. Hasson writes:

Salima is a man with no identity. The absurdity of his situation is amplified by the fact that his parents and five siblings all hold Israeli identity cards. The reason is simple: unfortunately for him, he was born in a hospital in Ramallah, and not in Jerusalem.

Amir Salima at home in Jerusalem. (Photo: Michal Fattal)

While their Jewish-Israeli counterparts are exempt, Palestinians who live in Jerusalem are required to submit documentation verifying that city is at the “center of their life.” Though inside of Israel’s 1967 border, Palestinians living in Jerusalem are not Israeli citizens, they are “Jerusalem residents.” If a court finds that Jerusalem is not their existential or material “center of life,” the local authorities can strip him or her of  Jerusalem residency. For Palestinians, “center of life” becomes a constant process: proving where one works, attends school, and seeks medical services. For Salima, being born in Ramallah is enough that under the current policy, he could never prove Jerusalem is the “center” of his life. His attorney argued, “His whole life is centered here. There is no other place where he can go.” Yet the Israeli authorities ruled against him, stating, “The family’s request was rejected due to various reasons, among them center of life.”

But for most Palestinian Jerusalemites, they lose their residency status because of the city’s artificial housing crisis, which is derived from discriminatory planning regulations. Under Israeli building codes, in order for a house to be considered “legal” one regulation requires electricity. And in the 1965 when this housing law was passed, approximately 50% of Palestinian homes did not have electricity, effectively rendering 50% of Palestinian homes pre-approved for demolition. Once a house is illegal, adding electricity cannot legalize it; the law will not allow for changes to illegal structures. If changes are made, the new construction is considered an additional penalty, and the homeowner could be strapped with fines and jail time.

Jeff Halper in “Obstacles to Peace: a critical re-framing of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” explains the process:

Take Jerusalem as an example, where Israel endeavors to maintain a 72% majority of Jews over Arabs. The municipality uses zoning and expropriation to severely restrict Palestinian construction, enforcing its policies with an aggressive policy of house demolitions. The result is an artificial housing shortage – 25,000 housing units lacking in the Palestinian sector – thereby raising the cost of scarce housing. Since 70% of Palestinians residing in Jerusalem live below the poverty line, they are forced to find affordable housing outside the city borders. Once they have shifted their “center of life” from Jerusalem, the Ministry of Interior revokes their Jerusalem residency, turning them into West Bank residents, thus bolstering the Jewish majority.

Another way Palestinians are losing their Jerusalem residency is through the expanding wall, and checkpoints. Earlier this year a mammoth multi-lane checkpoint was added near Shuafat refugee camp. As a result, some 70,000 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem are cut off from the remainder of the city through this physical barrier, thus disqualifying their “center of life.”

The only option for Palestinians Jerusalemites is a precarious existence. If their home is demolished, or they lose their residency status they must live elsewhere. And without adequate options inside of Jerusalem, typically they move to the West Bank where they are not guaranteed a West Bank ID. Overall, since 1967 this technique of home demolitions and proof of “center of life” has pushed some 25,000 Palestinians into the exile of illegal residency within Jerusalem.


Allison Deger

Allison Deger is the Assistant Editor of Follow her on twitter at @allissoncd.

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14 Responses

  1. Bill in Maryland on April 24, 2012, 4:51 pm

    Cynical, slow-motion, Kafka-esque, bureaucratic ethnic cleansing.

    • seafoid on April 25, 2012, 4:15 am


      “In one case, a police officer even sought to expel him from his house, after declaring him “illegally present.” ”

      That is Zionism in a nutshell.

      It is a descendant of the “present absentee” classification of late 1948. Palestinians do not belong in the Holy Land as long as the Bots are in charge. Simple as that.

  2. seafoid on April 24, 2012, 5:17 pm

    I don’t know how anyone Jewish can support this state. It’s a nightmare from which the Palestinians will one day wake. And Judaism will be rent asunder. How have so many decent people done nothing for so long ? And before anyone brings up JVP has anyone done anything that actually changed the dynamic and brought the sheer insanity of Israeli policy to a halt even temporarily ? The whole system is deluded. And this is for a religion?

    • Sumud on April 25, 2012, 10:44 pm

      I don’t know how anyone Jewish can support this state.

      I don’t know how anyone can support this state.

  3. Fredblogs on April 24, 2012, 9:12 pm

    You say their Jewish-Israeli counterparts are exempt. What about their Arab-Israeli counterparts? The Arabs who are citizens of Israel. Are they exempt as well? If they are, then why say “Jewish-Israeli”?

    • FreddyV on April 25, 2012, 1:43 am

      I can’t imagine Israel are settling Israeli Arabs in occupied East Jerusalem or Israel have offered any EJ Palestinians Israeli citizenship since 1967. Also, I doubt there’s any Israeli Arab citizens who’d want to be a part of this dispossession and bureaucratic ethnic cleansing, but I could be wrong.

    • Fredblogs on April 25, 2012, 5:20 am

      Yeah still waiting for an answer to that question. Any such restrictions anywhere in Israel on the Arab Israelis. If not, then why single out Jewish Israelis in your article.

      • tree on April 25, 2012, 5:46 am

        Multiple articles and references have been made here to what the Israeli government itself has referred to as Jewish only settlements, or Jewish only housing, where non-Jewish Israeli citizens have been prohibited from living, and yet you still need more proof of this? Are you that blind? If yo haven’t figured it out by now, that you purposely don’t want to know. There’s no excuse for willful ignorance.

      • Miss Costello on April 25, 2012, 9:12 am

        “Are you that blind? If yo haven’t figured it out by now, that you purposely don’t want to know”

        You got it in one.

      • FreddyV on April 25, 2012, 6:14 am

        Because there aren’t any Israeli Arabs in East Jerusalem as it’s actually occupied Palestinian territory and not part of Israel, despite Israel’s claims? I’m not boned up on citizenship in EJ, so I did a quick search.

        From Wikipedia:

        Most of the Arabs living in East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel since the Six-Day War of 1967, were offered Israeli citizenship, but refused, not wanting to recognize Israeli sovereignty. They became permanent residents.[9] They are entitled to municipal services and have municipal voting rights.

        I hope this helps.

      • Avi_G. on April 25, 2012, 7:41 am

        The position in which East Jerusalemites are in is rather peculiar.

        On the one hand Israel forced upon them Israeli residency (colloquially known as blue ID cards due to their color) and an Israeli travel document, akin to laissez passer.

        On the other hand, they have or can obtain Jordanian passports. This allows them to travel, however Jordan does not consider them citizens of Jordan and therefore affords them no rights or privileges otherwise afforded to the kingdom’s citizens.

  4. annie on April 25, 2012, 2:21 am

    pushed some 25,000 Palestinians into the exile

    ethnic cleansing. n. The systematic elimination of an ethnic group or groups from a region or society

    excellent article allison

    • Allison Deger on April 25, 2012, 3:52 pm

      No, Palestinian with Israeli citizenship, or Arab Israelis, are not exempt. Case in point, unrecognized villages: the same law (1965 planning and building act) that defines houses in E. Jelm in as “illegal,” or allows city officials to “re-zone” portions of neighborhoods for non-residential use is used inside of Israel’s 1948 borders. For example, a few weeks ago a portion of al-tur and al-isswayah (in E. Jel’m) were re-zoned as a nature park, rendering all of the hoising units ripe for demolition. This same process of re-zoning occurrs inside of 1948 borders, and it’s use is the sole legal reason for 180,000 Palestinians(or Bedouin) living in “unrecognized” villages inside of 1948.

      Yet for Israeli localities built without permits and/or in areas zoned as nature reserves, for the most part, they all get retroactive permits to legalize them. A great case study is Mitzpe Ilan and Dar el-Hanoun. Both are were unrecognized, but the Jewish Israeli one got permits a few years after construction, and the palestinian village is still unrecognized.

  5. bijou on April 25, 2012, 8:04 am

    This is the type of context that was missing from Bob Simon’s piece. Thanks.

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