East Jerusalem’s 360,000 residents to get just 6 polling stations in local vote

In the past only few Arabs have participated in elections, but interest appears to be on the rise, and some are accusing the municipality of trying to suppress Arab vote

A man from East Jerusalem shows his Israeli ID card to vote in the Jerusalem mayoral elections, November 11, 2008 (Daniel Dreifuss/ Flash90)
A man from East Jerusalem shows his Israeli ID card to vote in the Jerusalem mayoral elections, November 11, 2008 (Daniel Dreifuss/ Flash90)

The Jerusalem municipality plans to open only six polling stations in the predominantly Arab eastern part of the city for October’s mayoral election, sparking charges that officials are trying to keep Arab residents from voting — as the eastern sector of the city has some 360,000 residents.

Jewish neighborhoods, which represent most of the city’s voters, will have more than 180 stations, Haaretz reported Thursday. Each polling station in a Jewish neighborhood will serve approximately 2,000 voters, as opposed to the 40,000 voters expected to use each polling station in Arab neighborhoods.

Three polling stations will be opened in the mixed Arab-Jewish neighborhood of Beit Safafa, which means that the final three stations for Arab voters, located in the Old City, Sheikh Jarrah and Jabal Mukkaber, will each serve some 80,000 residents.

The remaining Arab neighborhoods are not expected to have any provisions for residents to vote in October, and according to Haaretz, some voters will need to travel at least 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) to cast their ballots.

Israel annexed East Jerusalem after the 1967 Six Day War and considers it part of its undivided capital, but the Arab residents there have boycotted local elections so as not to grant any legitimacy to Israel’s presence. According to Haaretz, approximately 1 percent of eligible Arab voters cast their ballots in the 2013 Jerusalem mayoral race.

The Jerusalem skyline has been changing over the last decade, as seen in this photo from 2008 (Nati Shochat/Flash 90)

The large number of polling stations in Jewish neighborhoods of the city means that that each location will have an average of 3.5 booths, in contrast to the Abdullah Ibn Hussein School in Sheikh Jarrah which will have 75 booths

Furthermore, of the polling stations in Arab neighborhoods, only the Beit Safafa location will be accessible to those with disabilities.

Many of the inhabitants of East Jerusalem are permanent residents entitled to participate in local elections but do not hold citizenship and are ineligible to vote for the Knesset.

Recent years have seen a surge in the number of East Jerusalemites seeking Israeli citizenship, but the majority of such applications have yet to be processed

Saeb Erekat, the secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee, recently issued a call on Palestinians in East Jerusalem to refrain from voting.

“Participating in the elections will help the Israeli establishment in promoting its ‘Greater Jerusalem’ project… and play a complementary role in implementing its colonial settlement plan and ethnic cleansing operations,” Erekat said in a statement.

However, Yair Assaf-Shapira, a researcher at the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research, told Haaretz that he takes issue with the city’s use of the boycott as a reason for not investing in polling stations in Arab neighborhoods, saying that “the fact that they don’t vote apparently serves as a good pretext for preventing them from voting. What this means is that you’re depriving the few who do want to vote of the right to do so.”

An Israeli secular woman votes at a Jerusalem polling station for the Jerusalem mayoral elections in a school in Jerusalem, November 11, 2008. (Michal Fattal/Flash90)

A survey conducted by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in June showed 22% of East Jerusalemites intend to cast votes in the elections, 73% do not plan to do so and 5% do not know what they will do.

Compared to a previous poll that the PCPSR carried out in July 2010, the results appear to show a significant change in Palestinian attitudes.

When asked in 2010 if they had previously participated in municipal or Knesset elections, only 8% of East Jerusalemites said yes.

Ramadan Dabash, a resident of the Sur Baher neighborhood, is running for mayor as head of the newly established Jerusalem for Jerusalemites party, which aims to represent the concerns of East Jerusalem residents.

Ramadan Dabash, a Palestinian resident of Sur Baher running for Jerusalem’s city council, at his second home in Beit Hanina, July 2018 (Adam Rasgon/Times of Israel)

“We are not telling anyone to become Israeli, change their religion, give up the Al-Aqsa mosque or join the Israeli army,” Dabash told the Times of Israel earlier this month. “We are saying that we need to make sure we receive better services. We need to have a voice on the City Council to fight for our rights.”

There is a significant disparity in the municipal services offered in eastern and western Jerusalem.

East Jerusalem suffers from extremely high poverty, a shortage of some 2,000 classrooms, a lack of permits to build homes, inadequate sanitation services and several other problems, according to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, an Israeli human and civil rights group.

And even though the residents of the eastern half of Jerusalem make up 37 percent, or some 327,700, of the city’s approximately 882,700-strong population, the municipality only invests approximately 10% to 12% of its budget in it, according to Danny Seidemann, the director of Terrestrial Jerusalem, an NGO that tracks political developments in the city.

Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.

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