Jerusalem’s Palestinians, who make up about one-third of the city’s population, have had residency rights in the city since 1967, guaranteeing them access to Israel’s welfare and healthcare systems and the right to vote in municipal elections—a right rarely exercised. Ramadan Dabash wants to change that, writes Matti Friedman:
In the last election in 2013, . . . not even 2 percent of [Jerusalem Palestinians] cast a ballot. This has helped keep [them] in limbo and has contributed to a gap that’s clear to anyone who spends time in the city’s Arab neighborhoods, which are neglected, crowded, and unsafe. Eighty-three percent of children in eastern Jerusalem are poor, according to Israeli government statistics, twice the rate in the city’s west.
That reality, Ramadan Dabash says, is why he’s flouting his community’s political taboo to run. . . . The Palestinian Authority, based in nearby Ramallah, sees participation in Jerusalem elections as a form of collaboration. Last month a council of Islamic clerics banned any involvement. Dabash says he has faced backlash in the form of hostile phone calls and messages on Facebook and WhatsApp groups, where he’s tarred as a “traitor” or a “collaborator”—epithets that carry a threat of violence.
But he’s determined to forge ahead, armed, perhaps, with the striking results of a poll released this year, according to which 58 percent of Jerusalem Palestinians support voting. Just 14 percent said they were opposed. . . Because Jewish residents here are split acrimoniously between mainstream Israelis and the ultra-Orthodox, if Palestinians have even a few seats, they’ll control crucial swing votes. . . .
Over the past five years or so, watching from west Jerusalem, it’s been clear that remarkable changes are afoot in the city’s human landscape. Not long ago, it was unheard-of to see Palestinian salespeople in Israeli stores. Now it’s commonplace. Palestinian enrollment at Hebrew University is up dramatically, as are requests for Israeli citizenship. The number of east-Jerusalem wage earners employed in west Jerusalem is now estimated at close to 50 percent. The trend is driven not by good will but by economic interests: by demand for labor in Jewish Jerusalem; and by a lack of better options for Palestinians.