Page last updated at 17:34 GMT, Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Surge in East Jerusalem Palestinians losing residency

East Jerusalem
About quarter of a million Palestinians and Israeli Arabs live in East Jerusalem

Israel stripped a record number of Palestinians of their right to live in East Jerusalem last year, an Israeli rights group has said.

Some 4,570 people had their residency rights removed, more than a third of the total number since Israel took control of East Jerusalem in 1967.

Palestinians fear an attempt to reduce their presence in Jerusalem, which both they and Israel claim as their capital.

Israel says most of those stripped of their rights were living abroad.

Palestinians living in East Jerusalem were offered Israeli citizenship after Israel occupied the area in 1967 and later annexed it.

Many refused, not wanting to recognise Israeli sovereignty, and were instead given residency.

But, according to the Israeli rights organisation Hamoked, if these Palestinians live abroad for seven years, or gain citizenship or residency elsewhere, they lose their Israeli residency.

Hamoked obtained the figures from the Interior Ministry using the Freedom of Information Act.

The organisation said that some of those who had lost their citizenship may now be stateless, or may not even be aware they have lost their residency.

Family visits and students studying abroad would be affected, it said.

The state of Israel pays billions of shekels a year in stipends to people who don't even live here
Meir Sheetrit
Former interior minister

Hamoked executive director Dalia Kerstein said the phenomenon had "reached frightening dimensions".

Israel's interior ministry said it had carried out a "comprehensive check" that people listed as residents of Israel had their lives centred in the country, and many were found to be living abroad.

Former Israeli Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit, who initiated the survey, told the BBC "it is a very normal, regular idea that people who are not living here for a long time" are not supposed to be residents.

He said those who had appealed had been approved to stay.

"The state of Israel pays billions of shekels a year in stipends to people who don't even live here," he told Haaretz.

The figures come amid Palestinian fears that Israel is trying to increase its control over East Jerusalem and cut it off from the West Bank, through the building of the West Bank barrier, house demolitions and evictions.

The right-leaning government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu maintains that Jerusalem is Israel's "eternal, undivided capital".

But it says recent demolitions and evictions are simply issues of law enforcement.

On Tuesday, a draft document leaked to Haaretz suggested the EU was considering hardening its stance on the city.

According to the newspaper, the document called for East Jerusalem to become the capital of a future Palestinian state.

The EU has never recognised Israel's annexation of the east of the city, which is illegal under international law.

Its formal position has been that the city's status is to be decided in negotiations, although some EU leaders have called for it to be a future shared capital.

Israel's foreign ministry reacted angrily to the reports, saying the apparent move by Sweden, which holds the EU presidency, "harms the European Union's ability to take part as a significant mediator... between Israel and the Palestinians".

It said the EU should be pressuring the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table, but the step would have "the opposite effect."

About a third of Jerusalem's residents - a quarter of a million people - are Palestinians with Israeli residency or Israeli-Arabs, who have Israeli citizenship.

Israel's annexation of the east of the city has never been recognised by the international community.

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