Jerusalem Arabs and Municipality Elections
(November 12, 2008)
Not participating in the mayoral election, once again, was Jerusalem's Arab population. Although, as permanent residents of the city, Jerusalem's Arabs are indeed allowed to vote in municipal elections, an overwhelming majority of the Arab population continuously boycott these elections.
Since 1967, various Palestinian Authority associations (now run both by Fatah and Hamas) have demanded that the Jerusalem Arabs refrain from voting in these elections. According to these groups, any voting in goverment elections on the part of the Arabs will signify their approval of the Israeli occupation of what they claim is Palestinian territory. East Jerusalem, of course, is one of these highly contested areas.
In the days leading up to the election, Hamas and Fatah leaders again threatened any Arab who might consider going to the polls on Tuesday. Condemnations by paper, wall graffiti and word-of-mouth lined the streets of East Jerusalem and other Arab villages throughout the city.
Palestinians in Jerusalem are not only allowed to vote in municipal elections, but they are also given the right to run for candidacy. Zohir Hamden, an Arab from the village of Sur Baher, intended on running for mayor of Jerusalem but withdrew his candidacy one month before the election. He became the Russian billionaire mayoral candidate, Arcadi Gaydamak's advisor on East Jerusalem issues.
Fouad Suleiman, another Jerusalem Arab resident, joined the Meretz Party for the city's election. His personal platform focused on improving education and general living conditions in East Jerusalem.
The heads of the private PA associations not only forbid Arab voting, but also condemned any Arab person running for election in an Israeli municipality position.
In a similar municipal election in 1998, “The Lobby for Human Rights in Jerusalem” - made up of nine private Palestinian agencies - decried Arab candidates' participation in the election. In a published letter they wrote:
The circulation of letters such as these as well as open threats and fatwas by Palestinian community leaders scared many Jerusalem Arabs away from the voting polls on Tuesday. Additionally, PA leaders attempted to hold a work strike in the city, but were detained by police and the Arab merchants chose to reopen their stores.
While some Palestinians in Jerusalem are aware of the coersion in this situation by their government, they still refrain from voting simply out of fear. They feel that the backlash they would receive from the PA is not a worthy price of a ballot. These Arab Jerusalem residents are aware of the corruption existing in the Palestinian Authority but are skeptical that the Israeli Police Force would protect them.
Still many other Palestinians residing in Jerusalem were simply unaware that an election was taking place. This is especially surprising because all of the mayoral candidates increased their amount of campaigning in the Arab villages this election.