Jerusalem Arabs` election boycott continues
By KHALED ABU TOAMEH
The Jerusalem Post
12 Nov 2008
As in previous municipal elections, the overwhelming majority of
Jerusalem`s Arab voters boycotted Tuesday`s vote.
Only a few thousand Arabs – mostly municipality workers and their
families – cast their ballots amid tight security measures and threats
by Palestinian activists.
The number of Arab voters in the city is estimated at 125,000. But
since 1967, the Arab residents of Jerusalem have been boycotting the
municipal elections out of fear that their participation would be
interpreted as recognition of Israel`s annexation of the Arab
The Arabs in Jerusalem are entitled to vote and run in the municipal
elections in their capacity as permanent residents of the city.
However, because they aren`t citizens of the state, they can`t vote
for the Knesset.
As has been the case on the eve of each municipal election, the
Palestinian Authority issued several warnings to the Arab residents
not to participate in the election. PA officials and spokesmen
repeatedly warned that any Arab who presented his or her candidacy or
voted would be treated as a `traitor.` The PA`s top religious leaders
also issued a number of fatwas [Islamic decrees] banning Arabs from
taking part in the municipal election.
Early Tuesday, PA supporters in the city tried to enforce a commercial
strike in protest against the municipal election. But after most of
them were detained by the police, the merchants reopened their
businesses, especially inside the Old City and in the main commercial
center near Salah Eddin Street.
Graffiti painted overnight on the walls also warned the Arabs against
participating in the election. The warnings were issued by masked men
belonging to various Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Fatah.
However, despite the threats and warnings, dozens of young men working
for the different candidates were seen roaming the streets and
neighborhoods in an attempt to recruit potential voters. Cars carrying
posters of Nir Barkat and Arkadi Gaydamak could be seen in almost
every neighborhood and village in the eastern part of the city.
Gaydamak appeared to have run the largest election campaign in the
Arab part of the city since 1967. Over the past few months, Gaydamak
succeeded in building a vast network of supporters who worked hard to
introduce him to the Arab population.
Gaydamak also ran full-page advertisements in Al-Quds, the largest
daily newspaper, in which he urged the Arabs to vote for him. It was
the first time that a Palestinian daily had agreed to publish such
Gaydamak supporters expressed confidence that the majority of the
Arabs who defied the boycott voted for their candidate. `Many Arabs
like Gaydamak,` said Ahmed Hosni, who has been working as an advisor
for Gaydamak`s election staff for three months.
`Gaydamak is the only candidate who visited the Arabs and promised
them equality and better services. He seems to understand their
Asked about the PA`s call for boycotting the vote, he replied: `What
has the Palestinian Authority done for the Arab residents of
Jerusalem? Absolutely nothing; I see no reason why we shouldn`t
participate in an election that doesn`t have political repercussions.
These elections are about the municipal services and taxes more than
Issam Abu Rmaileh, a shopkeeper, said he was didn`t vote because he
was afraid that PA activists would harm him.
`I heard that they were standing outside the voting centers and
threatening people who wanted to come and vote,` he said. `I would
have liked to vote because it`s in our interest, but who`s going to
protect me and my family afterwards? The Israeli police don`t do
anything for the Arabs.`
Reflecting the state of apathy, many Arab residents interviewed
Tuesday said they weren`t even aware that it was Election Day. And
those who had heard about the election said they thought Gaydamak was
running for prime minister.
`Most people just don`t care,` said civil engineer Haitham Bakri.
`These elections are for west Jerusalem, for the Jews. The Arabs are
out of the game. The candidates don`t care about the Arab residents.`
Hatem Abdel Kader, a top Fatah operative and resident of the city,
said the decision to boycott the election was a `natural response to
the ongoing occupation of east Jerusalem.`
He added: `Participating in the election means legitimizing Israel`s
illegal occupation of the city, and that`s why we`re opposed to the
move. East Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine and one day we will
have our own municipality and elections.`
Abdel Kader criticized those Arabs who either ran in the election or
cast their ballots, dubbing them a `tiny minority that is driven by
Another Fatah activist claimed that Gaydamak had `bought` hundreds of
young Arab men. `He exploited the fact that there are many unemployed
young men who are desperate for work,` he said. `These people want to
earn a living and some of them are even prepared to work for the