After running a controversial campaign that drew criticism from Palestinian political factions, activists, and religious figures, 53-year-old Ramadan Dabash accepted defeat on Tuesday night as the results of the Jerusalem municipal elections came in.
The resident of the occupied East Jerusalem village of Sur Baher told Mondoweiss that his all-Palestinian list, the ‘Jerusalem for Jerusalemites’ list, received 3,000 votes. He noted the minimum number of votes needed to win seats in the municipality is 7,200.
“I do feel disappointed about what happened,” Dabash told Mondoweiss. “I feel bad for my people. We can’t fix our problems if we do not have a seat at the table. Lack of sanitation, continued home demolitions, no building permits — all of these problems will continue.”
Though official numbers on Palestinian turnout in this year’s elections have yet to be released, Dabash estimated the number to be no higher than 4,000 — a little over 1% of the 350,000 Palestinians living in East Jerusalem.
In the last municipal elections in 2013, Palestinian voter turnout was estimated around the same number.
Palestinians have historically boycotted Israeli municipal elections in Jerusalem under the pretext that their participation would normalize Israel’s illegal occupation of the city.
In the months leading up to the elections, political leaders and activists called on him to step down, saying his run would be an act of “betrayal” and “normalization,” while religious leaders issued fatwas saying participation in the election was Islamically impermissible.
While the decades long boycott of the elections was expected to be upheld on Tuesday, Dabash claimed to Mondoweiss that voter suppression by Israeli authorities could have played a significant role in lack of voter turnout.
“In the week leading up to the elections, Israeli authorities are supposed to issue voting cards to people to tell them which polling station they are allowed to vote at and which ballot box they should cast in,” he said, and claimed that residents in East Jerusalem were not issued these cards, leading to confusion on voting day.
“So yesterday, people went to the polling station in their village or the closest one to them, and they were told they had to go somewhere else, to a different neighborhood farther away,” Dabash said.
He also alleged that members of the same family were registered at different polling stations across the city.
“This discouraged a lot of people from voting because it was extremely inconvenient to travel a far distance to vote, and for families to go to multiple locations,” he said.
Several Palestinians from East Jerusalem, who spoke to Mondoweiss under the condition of anonymity, backed up Dabash’s claims, saying they were arbitrarily not allowed to vote in their village polling station, and were sent farther away to cast their ballots.
“In addition to all of these problems, some people that were boycotting the elections made protests at the polling stations, and this also affected people,” Dabash said. “The sheikh said voting was haram and people shouldn’t go, and the political factions also said they shouldn’t go, so I wasn’t surprised that the majority of people did not participate in the elections.”
“I’m not against anyone’s religious or national views, but I really believe if we as Palestinians were in the municipality, at least we could claim our rights,” he said.
Despite the intense backlash he has faced for his participation in the Israeli political sphere, Dabash said he plans on running again in the next municipal elections, or even for a seat in the Israeli Knesset.
“By losing in Jerusalem, the Palestinian people here have lost. Now there is no one to fight against the Israeli agenda in the municipality to Judaize the city and kick Palestinians out,” Dabash said.
“For me, my motivation for running in any election is not a large nationalistic political statement. I just want to work to bring our people our rights and services that we deserve.”