Daniel Seidemann
July 30, 2010 - 12:00am

Hamas-affiliated Palestinian parliament member Mohammed Abu Tir - renowned for his bright orange beard - is my neighbor in Jerusalem. We live about a mile apart.

I've never met him, nor do I care to. I have no illusions about Hamas.

Abu Tir has just been released after spending four years in Israeli jail in because of his membership of the Change and Reform Party, which is associated with Hamas (and which both Israel and the Palestinian Authority allowed to participate in the 2006 legislative elections ). He is now facing exile. Not new charges, not a new indictment, not a trial.

I unequivocally object to the interior minister's decision to revoke his residency rights in Jerusalem and to expel Abu Tir from Israel and the city that is both of our homes - for the crime of being a public, political symbol of Hamas. This decision illuminates more about Israel's problematic rule over "unified" Jerusalem than it does about Hamas.

Such as the fact that Palestinians of East Jerusalem, who as "permanent residents" rather than citizens, are treated by Israel as visiting guests enjoying the privilege of residency, not as an indigenous population with the right to be there. Israel has for years shown an appetite for revoking that privilege. East Jerusalemites who move even a short distance outside the city risk forfeiting their residency, permanently, on the grounds that Jerusalem is no longer their "center of life." Those who go abroad for purposes of work or study risk the same fate.

And it is not just Hamas that is outlawed in Jerusalem: All Palestinian political activity more radical than a Cub Scout meeting is illegal in East Jerusalem. Palestinians in East Jerusalem are not being paranoid if they fear that the expulsion of Abu Tir portends a new trend, where any "proscribed" political activity may result in permanent exile.

Israeli non-recognition of the Palestinians of East Jerusalem as an indigenous community with rights is evident in every policy that governs that part of the city.

Israel has expropriated one-third of the privately owned Palestinian land there to build 50,000 residential units for Israelis; none for Palestinians. The expropriations are always made for "public purposes," but the "public" involved is, invariably, Israelis only. Much of the remaining Palestinian property in East Jerusalem is under threat of confiscation as "absentee property" - based on an Israeli law that nullifies Palestinian ownership if the current or previous owners reside even a few miles away in the West Bank or anywhere in the Arab world. And the burden of proof is on Palestinian property owners, who are presumed to be guilty of being "absentees" unless they can prove otherwise.

The planning regime in East Jerusalem has been geared to accelerate development in the Israeli sector and put an artificial cap on the Palestinian sector. Since it is virtually impossible to obtain a building permit, Palestinians often build without one - that is, "illegally," running the risk of heavy fines and ultimately demolition.

These are not random examples. Overall, policies regarding planning, property and construction in East Jerusalem indicate that from the perspective of the government of Israel, the birth of an Israeli child in Jerusalem is a simcha (joy ), whereas the birth of a Palestinian child is a demographic problem.

These policies disclose the consistent Israeli approach to Palestinians in East Jerusalem since 1967. With it, Israel is sending a clear message to these Palestinians about how it perceives them: "You are a barely tolerated minority whose position in Jerusalem hangs by a thread. We reject you as an indigenous, empowered or entitled collective. You are here under sufferance rather than by any inalienable right, and the privileges we extend to you can be revoked at whim."

After 43 years, the cumulative impact of these policies is an increasingly anomalous situation that is eating away like acid at the already vulnerable foundations of Israeli democracy. After 43 years, these policies also are increasingly unjustifiable even to Israel's staunchest allies, and are contributing to the growing and unprecedented isolation of Israel.

The foregoing is no mere litany of Israeli misdeeds. The underlying problem is not that Israel is ruling East Jerusalem unfairly and unwisely, but that we are ruling it at all. Consequently, these policies are now collapsing under their own weight. Neither the Palestinian residents of the city nor a consensus within the international community - including among Israel's closest allies - will countenance continued aggressive Israeli hegemony imposed over a functionally disenfranchised Palestinian community in one of the most sensitive places in the world.

Today, engaging and empowering the Palestinians of Jerusalem as a cohesive community is not only critical to the stability of the city, but it is the litmus test of the seriousness of any political process ostensibly aimed at ending the conflict.

Under current Israeli government policies, including the expulsion of Mohammed Abu Tir and the four other Hamas legislators from Jerusalem, Israel conspicuously fails this litmus test.


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