Municipal election polls have opened across Israel today, with the first ever elections being held in the occupied Golan Heights.
Polling stations across the country opened early this morning and will remain open until 10 pm, with approximately 6.6 million people registered to vote. Though the first count is expected this evening, the official results will not be released until tomorrow morning.
Today’s election marks a number of firsts, among which are four Druze councils holding elections in the Golan Heights for the first time since Israel occupied the territory in 1967. According to the Times of Israel, “municipal elections will take place in Majdal Shams, Bukata, Mas’ada and Ein Qinya — in which an estimated 26,500 people live”.
The move has divided the Golani Druze community, with some praising the elections and others lambasting it as an attempt to “Israelise” the region and its inhabitants. Until 2016 Israel appointed members to local councils in the Golan Heights – which it claims to have annexed and to which it, therefore, applies Israeli law – but following a petition to Israel’s High Court of Justice by a group of Druze lawyers the decision was taken to allow elections.
In Majdal Shams – located on the edge of the seam zone between the occupied Golan Heights and Syria – hundreds of Druze protested outside the polling stations to voice their opposition to the vote. The protesters chanted “the Golan’s identity is Arab and Syrian” and “no to elections”, as Israeli police used tear gas to clear the route to the polling station, according to Reuters.
Today also marks the first time elections for cities will take place on the same day as regional councils, meaning elections are being held in 251 of the 257 municipalities in Israel, according to Ynet.
One of today’s most contentious elections is being held in Jerusalem, with the outcome largely unpredictable. In the last poll allowed before the election this weekend, it was predicted that current council members Ofer Berkovitch and Moshe Lion would win 30.7 per cent and 29.8 per cent of the vote respectively, according to the Jerusalem Post. Since any candidate needs to achieve over 40 per cent of the vote to declare victory, this would mean that a run-off would have to be held on 13 November.
Although the Jerusalem municipal elections are open to both the city’s Israeli and Palestinian inhabitants, in August it emerged that Palestinians will be given only six polling stations while Jews will have 187. Haaretz revealed that since occupied East Jerusalem is home to 40 per cent of the city’s population, this means each of these six polling stations will serve 40,000 Palestinians compared to 2,000 voters in Jewish neighbourhoods.
Historically Jerusalemite Palestinians have boycotted the municipal elections, believing their participation legitimises Israel’s 50-year-old occupation of the city. Yet as demonstrated by the uneven distribution of polling stations across the city, Israel has also sought to limit Palestinian electoral participation, disqualifying Palestinian neighbourhoods beyond the Separation Wall and revoking Palestinians’ residency statuses.