Photo Credit: Miriam Alster/FLASH90
Hanan Ashrawi

The “Israel, West Bank, and Gaza” section of the State Department’s 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices is critical of all three governments (Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas) for their failures in preserving individuals’ freedom from arbitrary deprivation of life and other unlawful or politically motivated killings; disappearance; torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; harsh prison and detention center conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; unlawful arrest procedures and treatment of detainees; and the denial of fair public trial.

As is usually the case, the State Dept. report is blunt and extremely critical, as befits an agency of the world’s most prominent democracy and the leader of the free world. But senior PLO official Hanan Ashrawi, who resides in Jerusalem, had this to say about the enlightening report:


“Palestinian Jerusalemites are Palestinians, and they’ve been living there for centuries. Just to decide this, to eradicate their identity and history and culture and rename them at will, is not only preposterous, its unconscionable.”

Ashrawi, who was born in Shechem, by the way, was enraged by three paragraphs in the report. Here they are, with the “outrageous” parts in bold:

Although the law provides that all residents of Jerusalem are fully and equally eligible for public services provided by the municipality and other Israeli authorities, the Jerusalem municipality failed to provide sufficient social services, education, infrastructure, and emergency planning for neighborhoods where the majority of residents were not Israelis, especially in the areas between the security barrier and the municipal boundary. Approximately 117,000 Palestinians lived in that area, of whom approximately 61,000 were registered as Jerusalem residents, according to government data. According to the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research, 78 percent of East Jerusalem’s Arab residents and 86 percent of Arab children in East Jerusalem lived in poverty in 2017.

Authorities designated approximately 30 percent of East Jerusalem for Israeli settlements. Non-Israeli citizens were able in some cases to rent or purchase Israeli-owned property, including private property on Israeli government-owned land, but faced significant barriers to both. Israeli NGOs stated that after accounting for Israeli settlements, Israeli government property and declared national parks, only 13 percent of all land in East Jerusalem was available for construction by others.

An independent and impartial judiciary adjudicates lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations. Administrative remedies exist, and court orders usually were enforced. Non-Israeli citizens in Jerusalem can file suit against the government of Israel under the same rules that govern access to judicial and administrative remedies by Israel citizens. By law nonresident Palestinians may file suit in civil courts to obtain compensation in some cases, even when a criminal suit is unsuccessful and the actions against them are considered legal.

Yes, the State Department in 2019 changed its routine reference to “Palestinian residents” of eastern Jerusalem to “Arab residents” or “non-Israeli citizens.” This was the department’s logical solution to the problem of defining who are these people who are living in Jerusalem and hold Israeli residency permits, but do not have Israeli citizenship. If you call them “Palestinian,” you, in effect, assert that they and their neighborhoods are part of the Palestinian Authority, which they are not and should never be – they live in the undivided capital of Israel.

This is why Ashrawi is so upset: the change in the US official definition of who is a Palestinian, if you will, could mark the start of a retreat for the manufactured “Palestinian” nationality and with it, eventually, the end of the PLO’s aspiration for its own state.

Words hurt.


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