Hopes and expectations of Palestinian Jerusalemites rose when Israel's Interior Minister Sharansky announced to the press, on 17 October, that Israel would rescind its "center of life" policy, which had been used since 1996 to massively confiscate Jerusalem residency permits from Palestinian Jerusalemites. The news was readily disseminated by the international press, which widely reported the inaccurate conclusion that the peace-seeking Barak government had ended the practice of ID card confiscation.
Ever since Sharansky's announcement, numerous victims and potential victims of ID card confiscation have approached the Israeli Interior Ministry's offices in East Jerusalem to inquire about the details of the new policy and about new procedures to regain ID cards confiscated in the past - only to discover, however, that nothing had changed.
The first written statement from the Israeli Interior Ministry concerning the revocation of the "center of life" policy, appears to indicate that the so-called policy change was little more than a public relations stunt. The written statement was issued by the Israeli State Attorney to the Israeli Supreme Court on 31 October. The brief statement, issued instead of a series of detailed documents, which the Court had ordered the State to submit in the framework of a public petition against the policy of ID card confiscation on 22 April 99, explains that:
a) the Ministry is willing, upon request, to re-examine individual cases in which the validity of Jerusalem residency permits was raised in the past;
b) If the person concerned can document APPROPRIATE CONNECTION to Israel also during the period during which s/he resided outside of Israel, the Ministry will not take steps - subject to the absence of a criminal or security barrier - to erase him/her from the population register;
c) The above does not imply any change in Israeli residency law and regulations. The final decision remains at the discretion of the Interior Ministry, which will decide in each individual case based on the personal circumstances and the TOTALITY OF CONNECTIONS of the person to the city.
Far from Sharansky's earlier declaration of a far-reaching policy change, the State Attorney's statement remains vague, and suggests - if anything at all - that the current criteria for "center of life" be replaced by the new, and undefined concepts, of "appropriate connection" and "totality of connections" to Jerusalem. While a final Supreme Court ruling on the pending petition against ID card confiscation is still outstanding, the State Attorney's statement indicates that the Israeli government and its Interior Ministry remain unwilling to change its discriminatory policy.
In the meantime, ID card confiscations in Jerusalem continue at an unknown scope. By April 1999, the number of ID cards confiscated from Palestinian Jerusalemites had reached 2,812, directly effecting the Jerusalem residency rights of some 11,200 Palestinians. Once additional data for 1999 is available, the words of Israeli officials can be compared with the harsh reality of human rights in occupied Jerusalem.
BADIL Resource Center calls upon the international community, human rights organizations, press, and policy makers, to:
1. Approach the Israeli Interior Ministry to release ID card confiscation data for 1999, and investigate Israeli practice - not speech - in regards to this gross violation of Palestinian human rights.
2. Continue the international pressure for a fundamental change of law and policy by the Israeli government in order to guarantee the protection of Palestinian residency rights in their hometown Jerusalem. International awareness and pressure must be maintained also in order to convey to the Israeli Supreme Court that the international human rights community expects a final ruling on the pending public petition against the policy of ID card confiscation in accordance with international law and principles.