Op-Ed via +972 Magazine

‘This is how you change the status quo’: Rethinking the Palestinian boycott of Jerusalem elections

Less than a month after declaring his candidacy to become the first Palestinian mayor of Jerusalem, Aziz Abu Sarah – a 38-year-old activist, social entrepreneur, and former +972 contributor – announced that he and his slate of candidates, “Al-Quds Lana” (“Our Jerusalem”), would be withdrawing from both the mayoral and city council races, which are scheduled for late October.

In a post on his Facebook page, Abu Sarah cited two reasons for his decision. First, Israeli authorities recently informed him that his legal status as a resident of East Jerusalem was “being checked” due to his “travels and work abroad” with National Geographic and his own tourism company, MEJDI Tours. Abu Sarah, like other Palestinians in the city’s occupied east, does not have Israeli citizenship, and his Jerusalem residency can be easily revoked by Israel on various grounds (since 1967, Israel has revoked the residency status of more than 14,500 Palestinians from Jerusalem).

Second, some Palestinian groups who were vehemently opposed to Abu Sarah’s list participating in the local election, in adherence to a longstanding boycott of municipal politics by Palestinian residents, were “applying strong pressure on our candidates and their families” to end their campaign. Under these precarious circumstances, he believed it was best to step down.

Abu Sarah was never naïve about his motives for running for office, or the significant hurdles that he would face. Throughout his campaign, he was clear about his distrust of Israeli political institutions, which have entrenched the 50-year occupation of East Jerusalem and denied the Palestinian community their most basic rights. At the same time, he was highly critical of the Palestinian leadership’s inability to provide an alternative, practical political strategy for the city’s residents, who have felt increasingly abandoned and directionless. “I wanted to push Israelis and Palestinians to rethink their situation,” said Abu Sarah.

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