Ramadan Dabash, the east Jerusalem community leader who has formed an Arab list to run in the upcoming Jerusalem Municipality election, said on Wednesday that he and his friends were determined to proceed with their plan in spite of pressure and threats.
“We’re not going to change our mind, because we believe in what we’re doing,” Dabash, 53, told The Jerusalem Post when asked about the PLO’s recent appeal to east Jerusalem residents to boycott the election. “I don’t feel we’re doing anything wrong.”
Dabash said he was planning to register his list, which is called Al-Quds Lilmaqdisiyeen (Jerusalem for Jerusalemites) with the Ministry of the Interior by the end of August.
“We already have 22 people on our list,” Dabash, a resident of Sur Baher village in southern Jerusalem, told the Post. “They come from all the neighborhoods and villages, from the north to the south of Jerusalem. Each one of them represents his neighborhood and village.”
Dabash said that ever since he announced his intention to contest the municipal election, he has come under “direct and indirect pressure and threats.”
He said he was not worried by PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat’s recent call on Arab residents of Jerusalem to boycott the election, which is slated for October. Erekat warned in a statement that any Arab participation in the vote would “legitimize Israel’s illegal occupation and annexation of east Jerusalem.”
Erekat did not mention Dabash by name, but his statement is believed to be directed towards the community leader and his list.
“Who is this Saeb Erekat and who does he represent?” Dabash commented. “He does not live in Jerusalem and he does not represent the people living here.”
Dabash said that in addition to Erekat, the two most senior Islamic religious clerics in the city, Mufti Moahmmed Hussein and Ekrimah Sabri, a former mufti of Jerusalem who currently serves as a preacher at Al-Aqsa Mosque, have also called on the Arabs to boycott the election.
“No, I’m not afraid for my life,” Dabash said. “There’s nothing political about our plan to run for the municipal election. We’re talking about municipal services only. We’re not talking about the future status of Jerusalem or the Al-Aqsa Mosque and holy sites. We need to distinguish between political issues and municipal services. We’re not trying to make any political statement by running in the election.”
Dabash said that the talk about “annexation” and “occupation” was irrelevant in connection with the new Arab list’s participation in the election. “Our goal is to improve the living conditions of our people in the city and provide them with badly needed municipal services.”
He complained that in the past 50 years neither Israel nor the Palestinian Authority has done much to help the Arab residents of Jerusalem. “Israel hasn’t invested enough in the Arab neighborhoods and the Palestinian Authority doesn’t really care about us,” Dabash said. “This is why we have decided to take matters into our own hands and try to help our people by getting elected to the municipal council.”
Dabash said he was optimistic that the Arabs would head to the ballot boxes in October. Since 1968, the majority of the Arab residents of the city have been boycotting the Jerusalem Municipality elections in compliance with the policy of all Palestinian political factions. This is a policy that argues that participation of the Arab population in the municipal election would be interpreted as recognition of the annexation of east Jerusalem to Israel.
Previous attempts by Arabs to participate in the municipal election failed due to threats and calls for boycott by Palestinian factions. The first Arab to make an effort to contest the election, in 1987, was Hanna Siniroa, a prominent newspaper editor. However, Siniora was forced to abandon his plan to head an Arab list after his car was torched and he and his family received numerous death threats.
About 20 years later, another east Jerusalem resident, Moussa Elayan, took a shot. The Beit Safafa insurance agent and lawyer formed a list called the Independent Arab List. Although Elayan had claimed that he had received a green light from senior Palestinian Authority and Fatah officials to run in the controversial election, his list did not receive any votes to gain seats in the municipal council. Elayan claimed then that he had persuaded the PA and its ruling Fatah faction that his list represented only Arab citizens of Israel living in Jerusalem.
Elayan himself is an Israeli citizen, unlike the majority of the Arabs in Jerusalem, whose status is defined as permanent residents of Israel. This means that the Arab residents carry Israeli-issued ID cards that allow them all privileges given to a citizen expect for voting in general elections. (As permanent residents of Jerusalem, the Arabs are entitled to vote in municipal elections).
Dabash says he’s confident that this year’s election will be different than the others. “I believe that over 60% of the residents support us and will vote in the October election,” he told the Post.
“The people are fed up with the lack of services and they want to improve their living conditions. We’ve been neglected for many years by both Israel and the Palestinian Authority. It’s time for change and we believe that we can bring about this change. Those who are accusing us of ‘normalization’ with Israel don’t know what they’re talking about.
“We live in Jerusalem, we carry Israeli ID cards, we work with Israelis. If all that is fine, why can’t we have our own representatives in the municipal council? This has nothing to do with normalization. Our goal is to be the first Arab list to have representation in the municipality. Many people have voiced their support for our idea because they understand this is the only way to improve their lives. We’re not afraid of the threats and pressure because we know we have widespread support.”