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On June 27, 1967, the Israeli Knesset passed several pieces of legislation that annexed occupied Jerusalem, as well as twenty-eight West Bank villages conquered during the June 1967 war. The decision to “absorb” the territory was based on broad agreement within the Israeli cabinet and military.

Although several options for administering the annexed Palestinian population were discussed, one (informal) coalition, led by then Defense Minister Moshe Dayan and Jerusalem Mayor, Teddy Kollek, successfully pushed for a policy of limited integration in occupied Jerusalem. According to this policy, Palestinians would have functional autonomy over religious and cultural affairs, contact with Israeli government agents and service providers through a network of local intermediaries, and would be able to travel easily to and from the West Bank.

For its proponents, this framework was viewed as relatively benign and likely to appease international criticism of Israel’s annexation, which was and remains illegal under international law. This less interventionist policy, however symbolic and limited in scope, would also have the possible effect of making Palestinian Jerusalemites “feel” as if little had substantially changed since the 1967 war.

As a part of this framework, Palestinians Jerusalemites were given permanent residency instead of Israeli citizenship. It was reasoned that residency status, which is the same one granted to foreign citizens, would help maintain a measure of tranquility in the occupied city. While imposing citizenship would expose Israel’s plans to dominate the territory, residency status suggested that they were temporary administrators.

Of course, demographic considerations were also decisive. Israel simply did not want to integrate Palestinian Jerusalemites as citizens. Indeed, successive administrations have used this precarious status to strip Palestinian Jerusalemites of their right of residency, mainly through surreptitious bureaucratic methods. Unlike citizenship, permanent residency can be nullified, leaving its owners vulnerable to expulsion. This can occur, for example, if residents spend an extended period of time outside of Jerusalem without renewing their exit permits. Residents must consistently prove that their “center of life” (residential, economic) is in the Jerusalem municipal boundaries in order to maintain their status. According to Israeli Interior Ministry figures, from 1967 to 2016, at least 14,595 Palestinian Jerusalemites have had their status revoked by Israeli authorities.

Under specific conditions, Palestinians Jerusalemites could apply for Israeli citizenship after June 1967. The Israeli government knew, however, that Palestinians would be unlikely to do so, as this would “legitimize” the occupation. And, indeed, for decades, the vast majority of Palestinians in Jerusalem refused to take this route.

In recent years, however, more and more Palestinians are applying for citizenship to try and secure their place in Jerusalem, in the face of an increasingly aggressive colonial administration. The government has responded by deliberately imposing a host of barriers to stem the flow of naturalization requests.

A recent article by journalist Nir Hasson in the Israeli daily Haaretz details how Palestinian Jerusalemites are trying to bypass the lengthy and often difficult application process by obtaining citizenship through a “forgotten” clause in the Israeli Citizenship Law (Article 4a), according to which Palestinian residents should “almost automatically” be given citizenship. The Interior Ministry has been at a loss, as to how to handle this potentially explosive situation:

…Article 4a, enacted in 1968, allows a Palestinian who was born in Israel and has no other citizenship to obtain Israeli citizenship almost automatically – as long as he applies between his 18th and 23rd birthdays, has been an Israeli resident for the previous five years, hasn’t been convicted of a security crime and hasn’t been sentenced to five years or more in jail for any non-security crime.

This provision was irrelevant for the first 20 years, because East Jerusalem Palestinians were still officially Jordanian citizens. In 1988, however, Jordan stripped all Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem of Jordanian citizenship. Today, therefore, tens of thousands of young Palestinians meet the requirements of Article 4a.

Nevertheless, not a single person has been granted citizenship under this provision, and the Interior Ministry admits it doesn’t even have a procedure for processing applications under Article 4a.

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