Arabs in Jerusalem express attachment to Israel

Published: 13 December 2007
Briefing Number 209

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This Briefing highlights the opposition of Arab residents of Jerusalem to the possibility of a future division of the city. They express a strong preference for remaining part of Israel , rather than coming under Palestinian rule in current political circumstances.

Background – the political future of Jerusalem on the agenda….

Jerusalem 's future is in the spotlight once again. Before the Annapolis meeting of November 2007, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert raised the possibility of transferring some East Jerusalem Arab neighbourhoods to Palestinian rule, in the context of a future political agreement.

Predictably, this has caused bitter opposition inside Israel among a wide range of opinion, not just the religious right.

Less predictable was the reaction of Jerusalem 's Arabs. It might have been expected that they would welcome proposals for redividing the city. Would they not benefit by no longer being an ‘oppressed minority' inside Israel , but instead live as citizens of a future Palestinian state? And, after all, is there not a de facto division already in place?

In fact, the reaction has been the opposite. In various newspaper reports, leaders of Jerusalem 's Arab communities have expressed their opposition to the idea of re-dividing the city. Here are three striking statements:

Jamil Sanduqa, community leader, Shuafat

Sanduqa is the head of the popular committee that governs the Shuafat refugee camp (which has many thousands of residents) North of Jerusalem (his comments are from a report in the Washington Times, 25 October 2007 ):

•  “If the Israelis put a border here, we'll move to Haifa and Tel Aviv. You'll have 50,000 people who live here leaving East Jerusalem in minutes. Israel isn't thinking about that. Israel is only thinking of how many people it can dump into the Palestinian Authority….”

•  “I want to live in peace and to raise my children in an orderly school. I don't want to raise my children to throw stones, or on Hamas….”

Nabil Gheit, mayor of Ras Hamis

Gheit is mayor of a Palestinian neighbourhood in the eastern area of Jerusalem .

His comments below were reported in the Toronto Globe and Mail on 16 October 2007 :

•  Gheit says that over 5,000 people have moved to Ras Hamis from other parts of the West Bank, concerned that they would lose their Israeli identification cards if they didn't live within the Jerusalem city limits.

•  “If there was a referendum here, no one would vote to join the Palestinian Authority… There would be another intifada to defend ourselves from the PA…”

•  “I'd be happy to live in an independent Palestinian state one day, but not one split between the warring Hamas and Fatah factions. I don't believe in these factions. I only believe in putting bread on the table for my children. I fight only for them. At least in Israel , there is law….”

Gheit added that if he and others in Ras Hamis were no longer part of Israel , they would no longer be able to work in Israel , or use the publicly funded health system which Israel provides

Samar Qassam

Qassam is a resident of Beit Safafa, an Arab village just south of Jerusalem . His comments appeared in a Ynet news report on 7 November 2007 :-

•  “I work as a mechanic for an Israeli company. I have both Jewish and Arab friends. I speak Hebrew and I go out to Tel Aviv and Akko in the evenings. I just want a better future….”

•  “I was born in Jerusalem , this is where I grew up and this is where I make my living. My entire life is here. My wife comes from the West Bank , so I fear that she may be deported and therefore filed a naturalisation request for her as well. I want to keep living here in Israel with my wife and child without having to worry about our future. That's why I want Israeli citizenship...”

Beyond Images comments and five key messages:

1. In the debate about the future of Jerusalem the views of Jerusalem 's Arabs need to be taken into account. At the moment they are mostly being ignored.

2. The quotes above do not mean that the Arabs of Jerusalem are against a Palestinian state as such. They would mostly welcome a state, provided it is stable, economically viable and governed by the rule of law. What they oppose is finding themselves under Palestinian rule in present political circumstances.

3. Jamil Sanduqa and Nabil Gheit are elected community leaders of the Palestinian Arabs of Jerusalem. Their words can be taken to be representative. Samir Qassam's views were expressed as a private individual, but may be assumed to reflect the views of others in his situation.

4. Their views make clear that it is not Israel which is the obstacle to viable Palestinian statehood, but the divisions and extremism among Palestinians.

5. Finally, these quotes challenge the myth that Israel is a prison for Arabs living within it, and that they wish to leave. The reality is not so black-and-white. When the prospect of leaving is raised for the Arabs of Jerusalem, they express strong attachment to Israel – its democratic values, and the day-to-day benefits which they enjoy.

Related Beyond Images resources – the Israeli Arabs of Umm el Fahm:

Recent proposals to place the Israeli Arabs of Umm el-Fahm under future Palestinian control prompted similar opposition: see Beyond Images Briefing 82: ‘Living in Israel or a Palestinian State : Israeli Arabs Express Their View'.