JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel stripped Palestinians of Jerusalem residency status last year at a faster rate than at any time in the history of the Jewish state, an Israeli rights group said on Wednesday, citing official Israeli statistics.
“Revocation of residence has reached frightening proportions,” said Dalia Kerstein, executive director of Israel’s HaMoked Center for the Defense of the Individual.
Statistics HaMoked obtained from the Ministry of Interior under a Freedom of Information Act request show 4,577 residents of East Jerusalem had their residence revoked in 2008, which was greater than half the total revoked in the past 40 years.
The United Nations, the United States and the European have criticized Israel’s policies in Jerusalem, which include the eviction of Palestinians from homes whose ownership they cannot prove, demolition of housing built without Israeli permits, and expansion of settlements on land occupied since a 1967 war.
The Palestinians say Israel’s aim is to get rid of as many Palestinian residents as possible from East Jerusalem, to reduce their presence in its eastern districts and undermine the claim to half of the Holy City as capital of their future state.
“The Interior Ministry campaign in 2008 is only part of a general policy whose aim is to limit the Palestinian population and preserve a Jewish majority in Jerusalem, whose future is supposed to be determined in negotiations,” Kerstein said.
“The Palestinians are natives of this city, not residents who have recently arrived,” she added in a HaMoked statement.
Israel annexed East Jerusalem after capturing the area in the 1967 Middle East war and regards all of the city as its capital, a claim not recognized internationally.
Some 250,000 Palestinians now live in East Jerusalem and adjacent suburbs alongside 200,000 Israelis. The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejects calls for the city to be divided or shared as part of a peace agreement.
The United Nations and Western powers, which do not recognize Israel’s claim, say the status of the city is one of the core issues to be settled in peace negotiations, which have been suspended for the past year and show no sign of resuming soon.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz on Wednesday quoted an internal European Union document as saying Israel was helping Jewish right-wing zealots to implement its “strategic vision” of changing the demographics.
At the same time, the paper quoted the EU report as saying, the Israeli-run municipality was depriving Palestinians of needed building permits and providing them with inferior health, sanitation and educational services.
While 35 percent of Jerusalem citizens are Arab, less than 10 percent of the city’s budget goes to Arab areas, the EU internal report said.
The consulate of Sweden, which holds the rotating presidency of the 27-member EU, confirmed the existence of the report but refused to release it to Reuters. A senior Palestinian official also refused to disclose the document.
HaMoked said the Israeli Interior Ministry had provided statistics for all of the years from 1967 to 2008 apart from 2002 for which it said no figures were available.
They show that 8,269 Palestinians had their Jerusalem residence revoked over the 40-year-period. The previous high was in 2006, when 1,363 Palestinians were stripped of Jerusalem resident status. No figures were available for the current year.
Palestinians in East Jerusalem have permanent resident status but Israeli law says it may be revoked if they spend more than seven consecutive years outside Israel, or take foreign residence or citizenship.
HaMoked quoted the Interior Ministry as saying most of the 2008 revocations — under the previous government of Ehud Olmert — were carried out on those grounds in March and April as part of an “initiated check” by the ministry.
Most of the cases lived abroad, the ministry said. Only 38 cases involved Palestinians who moved to the Israeli-occupied territories outside East Jerusalem.
Editing by Alison Williams