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Most Palestinians in East Jerusalem are sitting out the Israeli protests, but they are still concerned about possible reform of the judiciary


Israeli demonstrators have been demonstrating for nearly three months against the Netanyahu government’s controversial attempts to radically overhaul the judiciary. And while the protests regularly bring more than 100,000 people to the streets across Israel, few Arab faces have appeared among the demonstrators.

The protests are causing some minor annoyances, such as traffic delays, for Palestinians living in East Jerusalem.

But the greater threat to these Palestinians in East Jerusalem is the proposed changes to Israel’s legal system. The changes, dubbed “reforms,” ​​would limit the Supreme Court’s powers to rule against the legislative and executive branches, effectively giving the Knesset the power to override Supreme Court decisions. by a simple majority.

I believe such changes would be dangerous for the Palestinians in East Jerusalem, especially when right-wing governments – such as the current one led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – are in power and against giving to Palestinians more rights.

Like a political scientist with a regional focus on the Middle East, I spent a lot of time with the Palestinians in East Jerusalem asking them what they think about the justice reform plans and the protests against them.

Our discussions show that the Palestinians in East Jerusalem feel an overarching sense of indifference and resignation to whatever happens.

“That’s the Israelis’ fight, not mine,” or “Who cares what happens? Nothing helps anyway,” were the most common reactions of Palestinians in East Jerusalem to the protests when I spoke to them in March 2023.

A view of East Jerusalem can be seen in February 2020.
Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A brief background

While Israel claims East Jerusalem is just part of its capital, the United Nations and Palestinians say it is occupied territory by the Israeli government. Furthermore, East Jerusalem covers about 27 square miles and is home to approx 362,000 Arab residents who are considered permanent residents of Israel.

These Palestinians do not have passports and cannot vote in Israeli elections.

Only 18,982 Palestinians in East Jerusalem have that Obtained Israeli citizenship since 1967. This followed the Six Day War of 1967when Israel defeated Egypt, Syria and Jordan over a territorial dispute and occupied parts of Jerusalem that were under Jordanian control.

This small number of Palestinians in East Jerusalem who have been granted Israeli citizenship stems from two main factors. First, many Palestinians feel resistance to taking Israeli citizenship because of cultural divisions and a desire for their own nation. Second, the Israeli government is making life difficult for these Palestinians to get Israeli citizenship.

Today, East Jerusalem Palestinians really live between two worlds. They are politically and economically connected to West Jerusalem, home to Israeli Jews and the Israeli government. However, most Palestinians from East Jerusalem can easily get in and out of West Jerusalem walls exist around parts of East Jerusalem, separating Arab neighborhoods from Jewish ones.

Palestinians in East Jerusalem also pay a city tax and city tax receive general city serviceslike water.

About 79% of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem live in poverty.

Culturally, the Palestinians in East Jerusalem are more connected to the West Bank landlocked Arab area of ​​Israel which is governed by a separate government, the Palestinian Authority. Many Palestinians in East Jerusalem have extended families and friends living in the West Bank.

Women in headgear and long dresses line up and watch people in military green, with Hebrew letters on their backs.  One is holding a metal detector.
Palestinian women are checked at an Israeli checkpoint between the West Bank and Jerusalem.
Musa Al Shaer/AFP via Getty Images

Talking to Palestinians in East Jerusalem

With this guiding question – what do Palestinians in East Jerusalem think about the proposed judicial reforms and the protests against them – I conducted a three-day survey and series of interviews with 24 Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem in March 2023. spoke to lived in the nearby city of Ramallah, but worked in East Jerusalem.

I spoke to 10 women and 15 men, and the average age of the respondents was about 26. Thirteen of these people had full-time jobs, seven had part-time jobs. The rest were students or temporarily unemployed.

A small majority of the respondents – approximately 52% – say they follow news about judicial reforms And ongoing protests.

Respondents showed empathy for the protesters’ goals to suspend judicial reform plans and, in some cases, push Netanyahu from power, with one respondent openly claiming, “If I were an Israeli, I’d be protesting too!”

But only two respondents said they would like to participate in the protests themselves. “I know how the Israeli police behave,” explained one person, who said they feared being arrested or legal action being taken against them.

More importantly, they said they didn’t want to protest to help maintain a justice system that hasn’t helped them.

Respondents were also very concerned about the possibility of more violence against them if they joined the protests. For example, Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir made headlines in early November 2022 for encouraging the Israeli police to open fire on Palestinian stone-throwers.

A disconnection

As Israelis demonstrate in the name of saving their democracy, the overarching sentiment of these Palestinians is that they have no leader or partner to help them achieve their own civil rights or national goals.

“Who represents Jerusalem to us? Who speaks for Jerusalem? What brings us together?” were rhetorical questions asked during my discussions and interviews with Palestinians in East Jerusalem. These people feel they are cut off from the Palestinian Authority – but that the Israeli government is also out to get them, as one respondent said.

Essentially, these Palestinians from East Jerusalem want their most basic needs met. In particular, they say that the city neglects their neighborhoods, resulting in an accumulation of waste, for example. And that their schools are severely underfunded compared to the Jewish schools in West Jerusalem.

Palestinian civil society leaders have argued that this sense of isolation and lack of direction has spawned a generation of young people in East Jerusalem willing to sacrifice everything and possibly violently push back against the Israeli government and civilians.

It is clear that the Palestinians in East Jerusalem are indeed listening and watching the great events happening in Israel. They want a voice in politics. But until they feel like an equal partner with democratic rights equal to Jewish Israelis, they will sit on the sidelines – sometimes even angrily responding with violence.

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