Human Rights Watch (HRW)’s long news release (“Israel: Jerusalem Palestinians Stripped of Status,” August 8, 2017) consists of a compilation of “testimonies” Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, who are permanent residents of Israel but not citizens.
In the release, and as has been her practice for 15 years, Sarah Leah Whitson, Director of HRW’s Middle East and North Africa Division, attacks Israel with a stream of false claims and demonization. According to Whitson, “Israel claims to treat Jerusalem as a unified city, but the reality is effectively one set of rules for Jews and another for Palestinians” (emphasis added).
The attempt to portray the situation as Jew versus Palestinian is wrong and reflects an on-going attempt by Whitson to manufacture claims of discrimination. The issue has nothing to do with religion or ethnicity. Rather, the key distinction is whether the individual is an Israeli citizen or not. As detailed in HRW’s own report, Palestinians from East Jerusalem are not citizens of Israel. Israeli citizens who live in the eastern part of the city (roughly considered to be based on the 1949-1967 cease fire lines following the Jordanian occupation), whether they are Jewish or Arab (or otherwise), have the same rights as all Israeli citizens. And notably absent from the HRW report is the basic fact that Palestinians in East Jerusalem have the option to apply for citizenship (thousands have been granted such status), but most choose not to for political reasons.
In addition, permanent residents of East Jerusalem are granted many of the same benefits as citizens including national insurance, health care, and free movement throughout Israel, etc. As in all Western countries, however, and contrary to HRW’s claims, the maintenance of residency status is not without requirements. It is also important to note that Palestinians who are permanent residents also have the right to field candidates and vote in Jerusalem’s municipal elections. (Many choose not to.) Many of the “discriminatory” policies falsely alleged by Whitson and HRW actually result from the failure of Palestinians to exercise their right to vote and elect municipal leaders who will implement their desired policy outcomes.
The deliberate use of “Jews” in place of “Israelis” by Whitson and HRW is also offensive, if not antisemitic. Again, it allows HRW to accuse Israel of “discrimination” and a “two-tiered system,” instead of acknowledging obvious and reasonable differences (described above) in the legal status of citizens, permanent residents, and foreigners.
This is not Whitson’s first flirtation with antisemitism. In June 2011, she authored an opinion piece in Huffington Post, accusing Israel of “racial discrimination” and invoking Dr. Martin Luther King to race-bait Jewish Americans. Similarly, in 2009, Whitson traveled to Saudi Arabia, using the specter of the “pro-Israel pressure groups” to raise money from Saudi elites.
Beyond the Israel-bashing, it is unclear what HRW wants from Israel when it comes to Palestinian permanent residents of Jerusalem. On the one hand, HRW accuses Israel of maintaining a “two-tiered system,” implying that Israel ought to treat Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem as Israeli citizens. On the other, HRW rejects Israel’s 1980 annexation of East Jerusalem and considers it occupied territory, suggesting that Palestinian residents should not be seen as Israeli citizens.
If anything, HRW’s logic implies that Palestinians should not be granted permanent residency, meaning they should not be entitled to the benefits (and obligations) that come with that status. It is hard to see, though, how that would contribute to human rights or stability in Jerusalem.