Israel to strip Jerusalem residency status from family of truck attacker

The decision to strip the al-Qunbar family of their right to live in their native city is not only collective punishment, but also raises questions about the Israeli government’s policy towards Palestinian residents of Jerusalem.

Israeli Border Policemen stand guard as a Palestinian family walk on their way out of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber, October 15, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israeli Border Policemen stand guard as a Palestinian family walk on their way out of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber, October 15, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The family of the Jerusalem man who rammed his truck into a crowd of people on a popular promenade on Monday will be stripped of their residency rights in East Jerusalem, says Interior Minster Aryeh Deri. The driver, Fadi al-Qunbar, plowed his truck into a group of soldiers standing on the East Jerusalem promenade, killing four of them before he was shot dead.

According to reports in Israeli and Palestinian media outlets, if Deri goes ahead with his decision, 13 members of the al-Qunbar family will lose their right to live in the city of their birth. The family, which lives in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber, has denied any knowledge of al-Qunbar having planned an attack.

Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem are always vulnerable to having their residency revoked if they stay abroad for long periods; this is a common experience for individuals who go overseas to study for postgraduate degrees, for example. But revoking an entire family’s right to live in their home because one of its members committed a crime is unprecedented. It is, obviously, collective punishment. It also begs the question, once again, of what Israel’s policy is toward Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents.

If the policy is that the city is to remain undivided and exclusively under Israeli control, without even a pretense of future status negotiations, then this means Israel has de facto announced its intention to permanently withhold basic rights like due process from half the city’s native-born residents.

The implications of this decision are not on the agenda of the Israeli Jewish mainstream discourse. East Jerusalem is a sprawling chunk of territory that most Jewish Israelis are afraid to drive through (except the settlers who work to evict Palestinians and take over their houses). But when the name of the place is evoked they immediately talk about access to the holy sites — specifically, the Western Wall of the ancient temple, which is located within the tiny (1km square) walled Old City.

There are about 380,000 Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, or close to 40 percent of the population. But they have no political representation and are granted only 10 percent of the city’s budget — even as they are required to pay their full share of taxes.

Israel says the city is their eternally undivided capital, but they deny close to half its residents basic municipal services. Garbage is rarely collected; there is a critical shortage of public school classrooms that leaves 60,000 children without access to free education; it is nearly impossible to obtain a permit to build or expand an existing home; and those who do expand or build a home run the very high risk of having it demolished by the city.

The vast majority of East Jerusalem Palestinians live under the poverty line. In the absence of civil police, the paramilitary border police units patrol the streets of East Jerusalem, often using violent crowd control methods like tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets. It is not unusual to see Palestinian children snatched from the streets and taken for police interrogation at the Russian Compound, on no charge and without an accompanying guardian. There isn’t anything parents can do to protect their children.

In exchange for their taxes, Palestinian residents are granted certain rights, which are presented as privileges: They are eligible for the national health care system; they can move freely around Israel and the Palestinian Authority; they can attend Israeli universities; and they can travel in and out of the country via Ben Gurion Airport.

Israel claimed for years that Palestinian residents of the city could apply for Israeli citizenship, but refused for nationalist reasons. In fact only about half of the applicants were accepted. As of last summer, the government has stopped granting citizenship to East Jerusalem Palestinians. One year earlier, several analysts and media outlets reported a spike in applications for citizenship among East Jerusalem Palestinians. This could perhaps be the Netanyahu government’s response to the “demographic threat” of another 380,000 Palestinian citizens of Israel.

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