Yesterday, 30 June 2006, Israeli Interior Minister Roni Bar-On revoked the East Jerusalem residency permits (IDs) of four Palestinian government officials belonging to the ruling Hamas party. These included three members of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), Muhammad Abu-Teir, Ahmad ‘Attoun and Muhammad Totah, and the Palestinian Minister of Jerusalem Affairs, Khaled Abu-‘Arafa. For Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, losing residency rights under Israeli law prevents them from living in the city, benefiting from their property and accessing essential services.
East Jerusalem is an integral part of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). In 1967 and again in 1980, Israel implemented legislation that illegally annexed East Jerusalem. These measures met with strong international condemnation, expressed in a series of UN General Assembly and Security Council resolutions. In 2004, the International Court of Justice analysed the legal status of the territories occupied by Israel in 1967 and held that, “All these territories (including East Jerusalem) remain occupied territories.” The protections afforded to Palestinians, as well as Israel’s obligations under international law, are no different in East Jerusalem than elsewhere in the OPT.
As provided in Article 45 of the 1907 Hague Regulations, which reflect customary international law, “It is forbidden to compel the inhabitants of occupied territory to swear allegiance to the hostile Power.” Yet, Israeli Interior Minister Roni Bar-On, in a letter addressed to PLC member Ahmad ‘Attoun, which he received on 28 May 2006 and transmitted to Al-Haq, stated,
Pursuant to [the Law of Entry into Israel], you are deemed to be a resident in the State of Israel. You are obliged to pay allegiance to the State of Israel. Nonetheless, your actions prove otherwise and indicate that your allegiance is paid to the Palestinian Authority.
This constitutes a clear and unquestionable violation of the rule contained in Article 45 of the Hague Regulations.
Moreover, Al-Haq considers the revocation of residency permits of East Jerusalem residents to amount to a form of forcible transfer prohibited by Article 49(1) of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem whose residency permits are coercively revoked have no other choice than to leave; to remain in the city would lead to arrest and expulsion. Statements by several Israeli cabinet members and official spokespersons have demonstrated intent to remove Hamas officials from East Jerusalem. According to Israeli media outlet Arutz Sheva, Interior Minister Bar-On recently stated, “People who have roles in the legislative council and the Hamas government have no place in the State of Israel.”
Coming the day after the sweeping arrests of 64 Hamas officials, the revocation of four Hamas officials’ residency permits suggests the existence of a concerted effort to paralyse the democratic institutions through which the Palestinian people are struggling to exercise their right to self-determination. It also appears to be part of a broader effort by Israeli authorities to encourage Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem to leave the city by making their living conditions increasingly difficult. This includes the refusal to issue building permits to Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the construction of Israeli settlements and of the Annexation Wall in and around the city, as well as severe – and recently increased – movement restrictions between the city and the rest of the West Bank.
In light of these measures, Al-Haq wishes to remind the international community of the policy, implemented in 1995, of refusing residency permits to Palestinian East Jerusalemites who could not meet a series of complex bureaucratic requirements to prove that their “centre of life” was in East Jerusalem. The effects of this policy peaked in 1996-1998 when each year many hundreds of Palestinian East Jerusalemites had their residency permits revoked, forcing them and their families to leave the city. Al-Haq calls on the international community to intervene with Israeli authorities to reverse the Israeli Interior Minister’s decision and to remain vigilant regarding future revocations of residency permits of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem.