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Jerusalem: Israel Arabs & Jerusalem's Municipal Elections

Since 1967, various Palestinian Authority associations have demanded that the Arab residents of Jerusalem - althrough permanent residents of the city - refrain from voting in the city's municipal elections. According to the PA, 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.

In the days leading up to the 2008 election, Hamas and Fatah leaders again threatened any Arab who might consider going to the polls. Condemnations by paper, wall graffiti and word-of-mouth lined the streets of East Jerusalem and other Arab villages throughout the city.

Under Israeli law, Arab residents in Jerusalem are allowed to both vote in the municipal elections and run for candidacy. Zohir Hamden, an Arab from the village of Sur Baher, intended on running for mayor of Jerusalem in 2008 but withdrew his candidacy one month before the election due to pressure from Palestinian organizations. 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 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 candidacy of and the support for the “Arab List” violates all international law and norms, and seriously undermines the prospects for a successful struggle of the Palestinian people to liberate their capital Jerusalem.

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.

Sources: BADIL;
Medzini, Ronen. “Jerusalem: Arab candidate joins Gaydamak,” Yedidot Achronot (October 8, 2008)