Court ruling offers shred of hope to Palestinians who have had their Jerusalem residency revoked by Israel.
For exiled Palestinian parliamentarian Khaled Abu Arafeh, it felt like a small step towards reuniting with his family in Jerusalem.
Israel’s Supreme Court last month accepted a petition on behalf of Abu Arafeh and three other Palestinian parliamentarians who were expelled from the city, cancelling the revocation of their Jerusalem residency.
“I know that our cause is a just one,” Abu Arafeh told Al Jazeera. “Jerusalem cannot be replaced by any other city, and I am eagerly waiting for the day I can return to Jerusalem.”
According to a recent Human Rights Watch report, Israel revoked the residency status of almost 15,000 Palestinians between 1967 and 2016. The majority of those cases involved a failure to prove that an individual’s “centre of life” was in the city, but there have also been cases of punitive revocations and collective punishment against family members of Palestinians who were accused of attacking Israelis, as well as a number of individuals accused of “breach of loyalty”.
Abu Arafeh’s case took 11 years to reach Israel’s highest court. In 2006, he, along with Mohammed Totah, Ahmed Attoun and Mohammed Abu Teir, was elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council on the list of the Change and Reform Movement. Abu Arafeh was also appointed Palestinian minister of Jerusalem affairs.
Israel’s interior minister, Roni Bar-On, subsequently revoked their residency status, citing a “breach of loyalty” to Israel. The accusation was related to their election to a foreign parliament and alleged membership in Hamas. All four men appealed against the decision and were deported to the occupied West Bank in 2010.
But in its September ruling, the Supreme Court decided that the interior minister lacked the authority to revoke the men’s residency according to existing Israeli law, and reversed Bar-On’s decision.
Adalah, the legal centre for Arab minority rights in Israel, joined the appeal in 2007, and in a brief submitted to the court, the group stated that Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem had never entered or immigrated to Israel, and their residency was never made conditional to any terms. The group also argued that the decision violated the men’s rights to live in their homeland without fear of expulsion and rights to liberty, dignity and property.
“It is unfortunate that this ruling was made only after more than a decade, during which time the petitioners’ rights were brutally violated,” Adalah said in a statement.
While the judges ruled that the residency revocation was illegal, they also delayed the implementation of its cancellation for six months. During that time, the Israeli parliament is allowed to produce new legislation to permit the revocation of residency for “breach of loyalty”, and this could subsequently be applied to the four petitioners.
“We have mixed feelings; our happiness is incomplete,” Abu Arafeh said. “I was expecting to hear strange and illogical things at the Supreme Court and this is what happened. But if the court has decided that the interior minister was wrong, is it right to only cancel his decision in six months?”
Fadi Qawasme, the lawyer who represented the four petitioners, told Al Jazeera that the ruling could be seen as a result of political pressure on the court.
“When you legislate a new law, you can’t apply it retroactively, so why do this at all?” he asked, suggesting that the court was “under attack because it’s accused of being liberal and it’s accused of being leftist. Nowadays, you know what kind of government we have in Israel, so they are always attacking it, especially in the last year.”
Despite the creation of a half-year window for the Israeli parliament to write a new law, Qawasme says that such an outcome is unlikely, due to the complexity of drafting legislation that would have to legally define the loyalty that Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem must show to Israel.
More than 300,000 Palestinians are permanent residents of Jerusalem, a status that allows them to reside in the city and travel and work within Israel but falls short of full citizenship.
The vast majority live in the eastern half of the city, which Israel occupied in 1967 and later annexed, in a move that has not been recognised by the international community. Palestinians want the eastern half of the city to be their capital of a future Palestinian state.
“This situation is very troubled. It is not just about these four,” Qawasme said. “It is about the residents of East Jerusalem … To say in a law that the residents of East Jerusalem owe loyalty to Israel, it will not be easy.”