Head of Arab list on J’lem elec­tion: We’re not scared

Jerusalem Post - - FRONT PAGE - • By KHALED ABU TOAMEH

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 are 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 is plan­ning to reg­is­ter his list, which is called Al-Quds Lil­maq­disiy­een (Jerusalem for Jerusalemites) with the In­te­rior Min­istry by the end of Au­gust.

“We al­ready have 22 peo­ple on our list,” Dabash, a res­i­dent of Sur Bahir vil­lage in south­east­ern 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 is not wor­ried about 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 have been di­rected at 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, Grand Mufti Muham­mad 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 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 is op­ti­mistic that the Arabs will head to the bal­lot boxes in Oc­to­ber. Since 1968, the ma­jor­ity of the Arab res­i­dents of the city has been boy­cotting the Jerusalem Mu­nic­i­pal­ity elec­tion, 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 a boy­cott by Pales­tinian fac­tions. The first Arab to make an ef­fort to con­test the elec­tion, in 1987, was Hanna Sin­iora, 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 PA 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 ex­cept 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 from 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,” he said.

“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,” he con­tin­ued.

“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.” •

(Udi Sha­ham)

RA­MADAN DABASH

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