Palestinians in Jerusalem will be given only six polling stations in the upcoming municipal elections while Jews will have 187, it emerged yesterday.
Pointing to plans by Israel’s Interior Ministry, Haaretz reported that despite the fact that occupied East Jerusalem is home to 40 per cent of Jerusalem’s population, these Palestinian neighbourhoods will be serviced by only six polling stations during the municipal elections slated for October. In contrast, Jerusalem’s Jewish neighbourhoods will be serviced by 184 polling stations. The move means that “whereas each polling station in Jewish neighbourhoods will serve an average of 2,000 eligible voters, in Palestinian neighbourhoods the number will be 40,000,” Haaretz added.
In addition, the six polling stations that will be available to Palestinians are not located evenly throughout occupied East Jerusalem.Haaretz reports that three of the six allotted polling stations will be in Beit Safafa, in the south of the Jerusalem municipality, where half of the inhabitants are Israeli citizens. One polling station will be located in Jabal Mukkaber, east of Baq’a, also an outlying neighbourhood of Jerusalem. Only two will be centrally located, one in the Old City and one in Sheikh Jarrah. This means that “for many Palestinians, the nearest polling station will be at least five kilometres (3.1 miles) from their home.”
The move will also impact those Palestinian neighbourhoods of Jerusalem that lie beyond Israel’s Separation Wall. These neighbourhoods are home to approximately 100,000 Palestinians but will not be allocated a polling station. The illegal Separation Wall, which has been constructed by Israel since the year 2000, often runs inside the Jerusalem Municipality boundaries, cutting off outlying neighbourhoods such as Shu’afat refugee camp in the north and parts of Abu Dis in the East.
In previous years, Jerusalemite Palestinians have largely boycotted the city’s municipal elections, claiming that it legitimises Israel’s illegal occupation of the city. Haaretz reported that “in the last municipal elections in 2013, only slightly more than one per cent of eligible Palestinians voted.” This low voter turn-out has been used by Israel’s Interior Ministry to justify its low allocation of polling stations for this year’s election.
A researcher at the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research, Yair Assaf-Shapira, told Haaretz that “you look at this figure and you check it again and again and you can’t believe what you’re seeing. The fact that they [Jerusalemite Palestinians] don’t vote apparently serves as a good pretext for preventing them from voting. What this means is that you’re depriving the few who do want to vote of the right to do so.”
Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem hold a unique legal status as “permanent residents” of the city, a lower status than Jewish inhabitants who are deemed full Israeli citizens. When Israel occupied Jerusalem in the Six Day War of 1967, Palestinians present in the city were given “resident” status while anyone who was absent was deprived of the right to their home. “‘Permanent residents” are not allowed to vote in Israel’s parliamentary elections and they have to regularly renew their residency permits. Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem estimates that “since 1967, Israel has revoked the permanent residency of some 14,500 Palestinians from East Jerusalem.”