For the first time, Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, over 90 percent of whom are not Israeli citizens, will be eligible for a lottery for subsidized government housing.
The lottery was once only open to Israeli citizens.
In October, the government changed its policy following the filing of a legal challenge by residents of East Jerusalem’s Beit Safafa neighbourhood against residential construction in the adjacent neighborhood of Givat Hamatos , claiming that they were Arabs and would be subject to dscrimination if seeking housing there.
Spurred by the serious housing shortage in East Jerusalem, many Palestinian families could enter the lottery in Givat Hamatos and perhaps in other neighborhoods as well.
After years of delays due to opposition by the U.S. government to the development of Givat Hamatos, in 2020 Israel issued requests for proposals to build 1,257 housing units in the neighborhood. Givat Hamatos lies beyond Israel’s 1967 borders, and both Washington and the international community object to its construction.
Givat Hamots will totally cut Beit Safafa off from Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and surround it by Jewish ones.
The decision to go ahead with the development of the neighborhood and to invite bids on residential construction there came in the final days of the Trump administration, and was seen on the political left as an effort to establish “facts on the ground” prior to the Biden administration’s taking office.
Aviv Tatarsky from the Israeli nonprofit Ir Amim said that the plans to build Givat Hamatos in Jerusalem would be discriminatory against residents of Beit Safafa.
The plan calls for 40 percent of the housing in Givat Hamatos to be offered at below-market rates by the Housing Ministry. This is part of a new ministry program that provides subsidized housing through lottery. However, it was originally only open to Israeli citizens.
Since Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War, fewer than 10 percent of the 350,000 Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem have acquired Israeli citizenship. Rest have permanent resident status.
When the Israel Land Authority failed to respond when Ir Amin contacted it on the matter, the organization filed a petition in Jerusalem District Court challenging the policy on behalf of 24 Palestinian residents of the city. According to the petition, limiting lottery participation to Israeli citizens would mean that permanent residents of East Jerusalem would be denied equal rights.
After the petition was filed, Israel’s government announced that it would offer the lottery to East Jerusalem residents who are permanent residents. The petition was dismissed by Judge Einat Avman Muller in response to the government’s offer. However, he ruled that the petition was justified and contributed towards the change in government policy.
She ordered the state to pay 5,000 shekels ($1,600) in expenses to the petitioners, but denied other requests they made, including a demand to publish the change in policy in Arabic and to set aside some of the new apartments in Givat Hamatos for residents of Beit Safafa.
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