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Israel accused of revoking Palestinians’ rights to live in Jerusalem

April 8, 1997

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Su’ad Nimr was born and grew up in Jerusalem. At 17, she followed her husband to his job in Saudi Arabia, returning every year to visit her family and renew her Jerusalem ID card.

After 11 years, Mrs. Nimr and her husband moved back to the city where two of their four children were born, and applied to Israel for a family unification permit so he could live in the city legally.

Four months ago, a letter came from the Ministry of Interior informing them that their request had been denied. In addition, the letter said, Mrs. Nimr’s residency permit was no longer valid, because she had moved her ``center of life″ outside the city. She would have to leave.

``This is our home, this is our country,″ Mrs. Nimr, 32, said softly at a news conference Monday. ``If there’s a peace process, why do they treat us this way?″

Palestinians and Israeli human rights groups charge that Israel is quietly and deliberately revoking the residency rights of thousands of Palestinians who live in Jerusalem to preserve the disputed city’s Jewish majority.

``The idea is simple,″ Yuval Ginbar of the Israeli group Betselem said Monday. ``Israel will do anything to make Palestinians leave Jerusalem.″

The Interior Ministry denied revoking Palestinians’ residency permits. Rather, ``when permanent residents sever their connection with Israel ... their free choice causes the expiration of their permanent residency,″ ministry spokeswoman Tova Ellinson said Monday.

Ellinson stressed that Israel’s Supreme Court had upheld the policy, and that the issue has come to the fore recently because Palestinians who had been living overseas have been returning in the wake of the Israel-Palestinian peace agreements.

According to the policy, Palestinians who don’t become Israeli citizens and who move outside the city _ even to the West Bank _ can lose their residency permits, which means they cannot legally return to live in Jerusalem.

While the rule is not new, some groups say the Israeli government is now enforcing the policy with new vigor.

Yael Stein of the human rights group Betselem said the campaign was an Israeli effort to secure sovereignty in east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as the capital of their future independent state. Israel says it will never allow the redivision of the city, and that all of it is Israel’s capital.

Palestinian residents of east Jerusalem, which Israel captured in 1967, are eligible to become Israeli citizens _ but most do not because they do not recognize Israel’s annexation of the city. Only a few thousand, out of about 150,000, have accepted the offer.

Particularly galling to Palestinians born and raised in Jerusalem is that they have less right to live in the city than Israeli immigrants or Israelis who have lived overseas for many years.

Faisal Husseini, Yasser Arafat’s minister in charge of Jerusalem affairs, said the issue of residency rights is as critical as the question of Israeli building in east Jerusalem.

The Interior Ministry ministry said it did not have statistics available on how many Palestinians had lost their residency rights.

Eliahu Abram, legal director of the human rights group Hamoked, said the ministry has issued hundreds of orders to Palestinians to leave the city within 15 days, but has not physically forced them to go.

But Abram said Palestinians who remain illegally in Jerusalem lose social benefits such as health care, free schooling and insurance, and cannot ever leave the city for fear they won’t be allowed to return.

For now, Mrs. Nimr and her family are living illegally in the city. Her husband, Adnan Azat Nimr, had to forgo the funeral of his father in Jordan this week, afraid he would not be allowed back.

``My husband cannot leave the house or go anywhere. We live in fear that we will be caught,″ Mrs. Nimr said.

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