Palestinian residents of east Jerusalem are increasingly lining up to request Israeli citizenship.
But this is no embrace of the Jewish state.
Instead, it seems to reflect waning hopes that peace talks will achieve a Palestinian state and fears that the Israeli separation barrier snaking around east Jerusalem could one day lock them out of the city.
Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed it shortly after, giving Israeli ID cards to its Palestinian residents. Since then, they have had the option of taking Israeli citizenship. But few have done so in a society where even cooperating with the Jewish state - much less accepting its citizenship - is considered taboo.
East Jerusalem Palestinians have boycotted local elections and lived under permanent resident status, allowing them to remain in the city while holding out hopes that their home will become the capital of a future Palestinian state.
The numbers of those who have applied for Israeli citizenship are still small - only hundreds per year. But in recent years, there has been a steady increase.
Over the past five years, about 3,000 Palestinians applied for Israeli citizenship, and about 2,300 received it, according to the Israeli Interior Ministry. The number of Palestinians granted Israeli citizenship has increased each year during that time, from 147 in 2006 to 690 in 2010.
Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabine Hadad said about 13,000 of east Jerusalem’s Arab residents, or roughly 5 percent, now hold Israeli citizenship.
Though the numbers are meagre compared with the total 260,000 Palestinians who live in east Jerusalem, they may indicate an undercurrent of concern about their future.
The moderate Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank and is pushing to establish a state with its capital in east Jerusalem, has taken note of the uptick in Palestinian applications for Israeli citizenship.
“We think this is wrong, and this doesn’t help,” said Palestinian Authority spokesman Ghassan Khatib. “We discourage Palestinians from doing that.”
The Palestinian Authority and Hamas run rival government in the two Palestinian territories, with Hamas ruling over Gaza.
Though Israel’s annexation of east Jerusalem is not recognized internationally, and the future of Jerusalem is the toughest issue in stalled Israel-Palestinian peace talks, the city’s status has worked to the benefit of its Palestinian residents in some ways.
Their Israeli ID cards give them the right to travel freely throughout the country and enjoy Israeli social welfare support. Neither are available to Palestinians in the West Bank, which Israel did not annex.
Every day, there’s at least one Palestinian who asks for help filling out an application for Israeli citizenship, said a Palestinian man with a card table and vintage typewriter in the Interior Ministry parking lot. He makes his living typing applications in Hebrew for Palestinians. He declined to give his name because being involved in applying for Israeli citizenship is frowned upon in Palestinian society.
A 31-year-old taxi driver said he submitted applications last year for him and his wife to be able to travel abroad without risk of losing their residency rights. His cousin said he also applied for hassle-free travel. They refused to give their names for fear of retribution from Palestinian militants.
Mariam Ikermawi, director of the Palestinian advocacy group Jerusalem Centre for Women, said some Palestinians in the city are applying for Israeli citizenship because they’ve lost hope in the Palestinian leadership’s ability to bring about an independent state alongside Israel.
“We have been let down by the Palestinian Authority big time,” Ms. Ikermawi said.
Others fear a future state would be taken over by the militant Hamas.
Another factor could be the barrier Israel has been building for the past eight years along the West Bank to keep attackers out, cutting through parts of east Jerusalem. In response, throngs of Palestinians have moved to Jerusalem neighbourhoods on the “Israeli” side of the barrier, out of fear that the wall could eventually become the border between Israel and a Palestinian state.
“We used to say we are Palestinians. Now we say, ‘I am a Jerusalemite.’” said Ms. Ikermawi. “We started feeling we belong nowhere.”
Palestinians charge that Israel is trying to expel Palestinians from the city, stepping up years-long practice of stripping Palestinians of their Jerusalem residency if they live outside the city for several years.
The Israeli organization HaMoked , which defends the rights of Palestinians, reported in 2009 that Israel’s Interior Ministry revoked the residency of 4,577 east Jerusalemites a year before - more than 20 times the annual average of the previous 40 years. The Interior Ministry would not confirm the number, but said it weeds out residents who no longer spent most of their time in the city.