Although, the majority of East Jerusalem Arabs refuse Israeli citizenship, more Palestinians are requesting it, acknowledging the lack of a peace deal, a weaker legal status, and simple pragmatism.
“I declare I will be a loyal citizen of the state of Israel,” reads the oath that must be sworn by all naturalized Israeli citizens. Increasingly, they are words being uttered by Palestinians.
In East Jerusalem, which Israel captured from Jordan during the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed, issues of Palestinian identity are layered with complexity.
While Israel regards the east of the city as part of Israel, the estimated 300,000 Palestinians that live there do not. They are not Israeli citizens, instead holding Israeli-issued blue IDs that grant them permanent resident status.
While they can seek citizenship if they wish, the vast majority reject it.
And yet over the past decade, an increasing number of East Jerusalem Palestinians have gone through the lengthy process of becoming Israeli citizens, researchers and lawyers say.
In part it reflects a loss of hope that an independent Palestinian state will ever emerge. But it also reflects a hard-headed pragmatism – an acknowledgement that having Israeli citizenship will make it easier to get or change jobs, buy or move house, travel abroad and receive access to services.
Israeli officials are reluctant to confirm figures, but data obtained by the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies indicates a jump over the past decade, rising from 114 applications in 2003 to between 800 and 1,000 a year now, around half of which are successful. On top of that, hundreds have made inquiries before the formal application process begins.
Interior Ministry figures obtained by Reuters show there were 1,434 applications in 2012-13, of which 189 were approved, 1,061 are still being processed and 169 were rejected. The remainder are in limbo.
Palestinians who have applied do not like to talk about it. The loyalty oath is not an easy thing for them to sign up to and becoming a naturalized Israeli – joining the enemy – is taboo.
“It felt bad, really bad,” said a 46-year-old Palestinian teacher who took the oath a year ago. Despite her reservations, she knew it was right for stability and career prospects.
“We just want to live our lives,” she said. “At the end of the day, politics gets you nowhere.”
For many East Jerusalemites, part of the fear is that Israel could revoke their blue ID at any time since retaining it depends on maintaining a “center of life” in Jerusalem. Spend too much time abroad or working elsewhere and the ID could go. That is not the case when it comes to citizenship.
“I wanted to strengthen myself in Jerusalem,” said the teacher, explaining her reasoning. “It’s my homeland. I was born here, I live here and I want to stay here.”
Others echoed that sense of a transition that on the one hand feels like a renunciation, but on the other strengthens their ability to keep firm roots in Jerusalem.
“It felt really wrong, I was a bit ashamed because it feels like you’re giving up your identity,” said a 26-year-old Palestinian ballet dancer, who began the application in June.
“But if I get an Israeli passport I won’t be so weak, especially living in East Jerusalem – it’s so easy for us to get kicked out.”
The ballet dancer told her immediate family who initially reacted with surprise but later accepted her choice. However, some other Palestinians fear their community’s reaction to breaking the taboo, so keep their decision even from family and friends.
For many Palestinians, East Jerusalem feel likes a twilight zone. They pay Israeli municipal taxes and receive healthcare and insurance benefits, but are often neglected when it comes to basic city services – from trash collection to new playgrounds and resources in schools and clinics.
The situation is particularly bad in places like Shuafat, a refugee camp a few minutes away from the Old City. Shuafat lies beyond the concrete barrier built by Israel in the mid-2000s, after a wave of Palestinian suicide bombings.
To reach the rest of Jerusalem, Shuafat residents must queue to get through a caged-iron walkway that crosses the barrier. About 100,000 Palestinians live beyond the barrier but are still Jerusalemites.
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