Palestinians wait at Qalandiya checkpoint on May 17, 2019, on their way to pray at the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem during Ramadan.


David Vaaknin for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Feature Story

After Months of War, Jerusalem’s Municipal Elections Leave Palestinian Residents Indifferent


Delayed several times due to the war, Jerusalem’s municipal elections take place this week in a turbulent city.

Last fall, Palestinians in Jerusalem were embroiled in a serious debate over whether it was expedient to participate in Jerusalem’s municipal elections, originally scheduled for October 31, 2023. This week, the elections, which were rescheduled twice due to the war on Gaza, will finally take place. Fifteen lists are competing for the 30 seats on the council, with a 31st seat reserved for the elected mayor. The number of votes needed to secure a seat is 7,500.1 The outgoing council is largely composed of extreme right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties.

Opinion polls indicate that the current mayor, Moshe Lion, from the right-wing Likud Party, is most likely to be reelected for a second term.

Since 1967, no Palestinian has served on the council or as mayor.

Palestinian Jerusalemites, who were estimated to number 375,600 in 2021, make up nearly 40 percent of the city’s population.2 The vast majority are permanent residents (see Precarious Status). While they are entitled to vote (only in municipal, not national, elections) and to serve on the council, they have largely declined to participate for 56 years, ever since Israel occupied the eastern side of the city (where Palestinians live) in 1967.

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Since 1967, Palestinian Jerusalemites have largely boycotted the Jerusalem municipal elections. Will this time be any different?

Since 1967, no Palestinian has served on the council or as mayor.

Last spring, a respected lawyer and former accountant from Nazareth who has been living in the Beit Safafa neighborhood of East Jerusalem for decades, Walid Abu Tayyeh, 69, decided to buck tradition and form a Palestinian list to run in the elections with himself as its head for mayor. Abu Tayyeh subsequently agreed with a Palestinian woman, Sondos al-Hout, 33, a language teacher and fellow Jerusalemite originally from Nazareth and also a citizen, that she would head the list.

This list was intended to bring about the unexpected: the possibility that there will be a Palestinian representative in the Municipal Council, which is controlled by the extreme right and Jewish religious parties, for the first time.

While this was not the first Palestinian or Palestinian–Jewish list, it was a more broadly representative one that could have had a shot at bringing reluctant Palestinians out to vote. The list, which eventually expanded into a Palestinian–Jewish list, registered to run under the name Kol Toshaveha (Hebrew for All Its Residents), arousing an intense community discussion. At the time, Abu Tayyeh told an interviewer, “On election day, I estimate that we can get as many as 80,000, or even 100,000 votes . . . including a few thousand Jewish ones.”3

Attorney Walid Abu Tayyeh of Jerusalem

Walid Abu Tayyeh of the All Its Residents list in Jerusalem


Courtesy of Walid Abu Tayyeh

However, the majority of intellectual and moderate political leaders opted for a wait-and-see attitude, arguing that the debate and political conditions had not yet matured in favor of supporting the list by voting.

Then came October 7 and the war on Gaza.

The aggressive clampdowns from authorities that followed have silenced all such discussions since.

Abu Tayyeh cooled to the idea and withdrew from the number one slot on the list, remaining at number three. He told Jerusalem Story that he is no longer interested in the elections nor is he canvassing, but the list he started, which was officially registered before October 7, 2023, will appear on the ballot on February 27. He told Al Jazeera that his belief in coexistence has expired. “I’m now convinced that the Jewish Israeli state wants to ethnically cleanse us,” he said. “They want the entire land just for them.”4

Al-Hout, however, persisted and appears at the top of the All Its Residents list, which has 17 members. The top six slots are reserved for Palestinians, followed by three Jewish Israelis, then a Palestinian, and so on. Some of the Jews on the list are from the Meretz Party; the vast majority of Palestinian on the list are citizens.

Sondos al-Hout

In an exclusive interview on the eve of the elections, al-Hout told Jerusalem Story that if she makes it to the City Council, her number one priority is the situation in Kufr ‘Aqab (see Neighborhoods beyond the Wall). “I have made several visits to Kufr ‘Aqab, and the situation in this community is extremely troubling, especially in terms of the health of the community,” she said. Al-Hout noted that the sanitation is abysmal, the water situation is unhealthy, and there is danger from many sources to the lives of the residents of Jerusalem who live beyond the wall. “I will give the communities beyond the wall my top attention, including issues of easing checkpoints, especially for students trying to get to school and back in the afternoons.”5

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Sondos al-Hout, leader of the All Its Residents list in Jerusalem

Sondos al-Hout, leader of the All Its Residents list in Jerusalem


Courtesy of Sondos al-Hout

Al-Hout is upset that the legal appeals (which began even before the events of October 7) to have polling stations situated in neighborhoods beyond the wall—or at least at the checkpoints that control entry to the rest of the city—have failed. “They had voting booths at the Qalandiya checkpoint during the Knesset elections, so why can’t they do the same for the municipal elections?” she asked. Likewise, the government found a way to install 12 polling stations erected in the Gaza Strip and the Lebanese border for soldiers, so it begs credibility that neighborhoods in its self-proclaimed capital city could not be provided with the same.6

Al-Hout notes that residents living in some of the largest Palestinian voting blocs, including Shu‘fat camp and Kufr ‘Aqab, have to travel and pass through checkpoints just to vote. These days, due to the war, the checkpoints are only open two hours in the morning, and all morning commuters jam up for hours trying to get through them, making it almost impossible.

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These days, due to the war, the checkpoints are only open two hours in the morning.

Al-Hout considers the events of October 7 in Gaza both negatively and positively. “On the negative level, we were unable to campaign or raise any money while the other [Jewish] lists were working all the time. On the positive side, the war on Gaza has exposed the racist nature of many Israelis, and now we see that racist ministers like [Itamar] Ben-Gvir [Minister of National Security] are supporting the Likud candidate for mayor.”

The head of the All Its Residents list told Jerusalem Story that there is a major stumbling block in East Jerusalem as to who is qualified to vote. “Young people don’t know that the voting age is 17 and that you don’t need to be a citizen to vote for the Municipal Council and mayor. There are 250,000 Palestinian Jerusalemites who are qualified to vote in these elections, and we need at least 7,000 votes to secure a seat on the 31-member city council.”

Al-Hout would not say if she will agree to be part of any coalition if she or other members of her list are successful on Tuesday.

I prefer to be in the opposition, but if we are offered a partnership in any coalition, our condition is that they would help us resolve the many problems in East Jerusalem, including housing, Arnona, the al-Aqsa Mosque, and neighborhoods beyond the wall. We also insist that any coalition agreement should be made public so everyone can see it.

A senior Israeli journalist specializing in Jerusalem affairs told Jerusalem Story that he doubts that any Palestinian will be elected. Even if one or two make it to the 31-member City Council, they will hardly make a difference, he predicted.

Apathy in the Face of City Neglect, Harassment, and Racist Policies

Palestinian Jerusalemites complain that Israel and its “unified” city municipality have never cared for them. Ahmad Saeeda, a young resident of the Wadi al-Joz neighborhood, told Jerusalem Story, “The Israeli Jerusalem Municipality does not exist in East Jerusalem, and the only thing the municipality provides to us is not services, but rather various violations, for the strangest reasons.” Saeeda shared three such violations that the municipality imposed on his house. He was fined for not preserving the general appearance of the city—three fines: one for the graffiti on the wall of his house welcoming the return of Muslim pilgrims from Mecca in Saudia Arabia after having carried out the sacred Muslim pilgrimage of Hajj; one for the flowerpot located on his front door; and one for the water pipe descending from the roof.7 These violations were issued on the evening of the municipal elections.

“The Israeli Jerusalem Municipality does not exist in East Jerusalem, and the only thing the municipality provides to us is not services, but rather various violations.”

Ahmad Saeeda, resident of Wadi al-Joz

Like Saeeda, few Palestinians in East Jerusalem have been paying any attention to the municipal elections, unlike in Jewish West Jerusalem, whose streets, alleys, and house walls are filled with banners and pictures of Jewish candidates and lists whose affiliation ranges between religious, right-wing, and secular candidates.

Rather, the community seems to be more responsive to the calls for a continued boycott of the municipal elections—calls that become more intense this year in light of Israel’s brutal war on Gaza. The boycott position has been the prevailing position since Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967.

The Jerusalemite activist Hazem Kawasmi, who runs a Jerusalem-centric WhatsApp group of Palestinian intellectuals in Jerusalem, told Jerusalem Story that Jerusalemites will continue to have the same position as in the past. “As in previous years, I expect that there will be a complete boycott of these elections. This has become especially clear in the aggressive war against our people in the Gaza Strip, which has exposed the ugliness and criminality of the Israeli government in all its political and military components.”8

Kawasmi added,

If any Palestinian in Jerusalem was thinking about participating or running in the municipal elections before the war, he has now thought better of it, because sitting next to those right-wing extremists in the Municipal Council will be seen as participating with them in all their arbitrary occupation measures and their daily crimes against Jerusalemites, including land confiscations, home demolitions, widespread arrests of activists and others, and establishing blatantly racist policies.

We in Jerusalem will not improve much if the number of garbage containers increases, while the demolition of homes, land confiscations, arrests, assassinations, and all the racist policies that aim to displace us from the city continue. There are many ways to improve services in the field of infrastructure and the educational and health sectors without entering the Municipal Council and sitting next to those criminals.

Kawasmi continued that the existence of a joint Arab-Jewish list will not change anything in the matter, because the Meretz movement, which represents the Jewish side in the list, is already very weak and divided into two halves. “The person nominated to head the joint bloc is a person far removed from the concerns of Jerusalemites and society. She is completely unqualified to represent the people of Jerusalem in anything,” he insisted.

Ziad Hammouri, director of the Jerusalem Center for Social and Economic Rights (JCSER) and a prominent Palestinian figure in the city, told Jerusalem Story that there is no doubt that the idea of participating in municipal elections is rejected.

Whether from the political or religious level, today, in this circumstance that we live in, it is not possible to accept the idea of any Palestinian participating in the municipality. We see this great extremism, killing, and all the issues related to Jerusalem. It is not possible to participate at all. Everyone who participates in the elections as a candidate will be an outcast on the national, religious, and social levels.9

Hammouri noted that there is a collective opposition regarding those who cast their votes in these municipal elections.

“Everyone who participates in the elections as a candidate will be an outcast on the national, religious, and social levels.”

Ziad Hammouri, Director, Jerusalem Center for Economic and Social Studies

A 35-year-old Palestinian Jerusalemite who works in one of the municipality institutions (but declined to reveal his name for fear of reprisals) told Jerusalem Story that whoever decides to cast a vote on Tuesday will do so away from people’s eyes, in the evening hours. “As in previous municipal elections, I voted in the evening hours just before the polls closed, for fear that people would see me. I was forced to vote so as not to lose my job,” he said. “Israeli officials were keen to hint to us about the necessity of participating in the elections if we wanted to keep our jobs. However, this year, I do not think the situation will be much different.”10

According to the Jerusalem Post, the number of Arab and Jewish voters in Jerusalem reached 690,707.11 Of those, as noted, about 250,000 East Jerusalem residents have the right to vote.

Al-Hout is determined to participate in the elections. In her electoral program, she says that the goal of participation is “because there is an urgent need for an Arab voice in the municipality.”

Al-Hout, who never used the word “Palestinian,” says that her list will “focus on the necessity of having an Arab representative to prevent the demolition of homes, to promote the expansion of building rights, and to provide services to those who live behind the wall.”

Barrers to Voting: Few Polling Stations in Palestinian Neighborhoods; Nonexistent Voter Notifications

However, those Palestinians who wish to vote to improve their services will not have an easy time because, as noted, only a few polling stations are located in Palestinian neighborhoods. In fact, the city has decided not to place any ballot boxes in municipal areas behind the Separation Wall for “security reasons,” even though the Palestinian residents of those areas are the most affected in terms of the services that badly need improvement, given that the municipality all but abandoned them years ago.

Official data are nonexistent, but unofficial estimates count at least 150,000 Palestinians living in these neighborhoods, meaning that they are roughly one-third of the city’s Palestinian population.12

“There is an urgent need for an Arab voice in the municipality.”

Sondos al-Hout, All Its Residents

The All Its Residents list filed a petition in the district court on Sunday against the Interior Ministry and the National Commissioner for Elections, claiming that no voter notices were mailed to Palestinians in East Jerusalem. “It is impossible to ignore the difficult feeling of the residents of East Jerusalem that voter notices are not sent to them deliberately in order to make it difficult for them to exercise their elementary right to vote for the municipality,” the petition said.13

Palestinian neighborhoods in the city can lack street addresses and adequate forms of mail delivery, making the whole approach of mailing voter notifications highly problematic in this case. This situation has been even more problematic since the checkpoints were closed and then only partially reopened when the war started in October.

Official Call for Boycott

The war on Gaza strengthened those opposed to participating in the municipal elections, as global interest grew in the necessity of establishing an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital as called for by International Law.

On Sunday February 25, 2024, the Palestinian National Council issued an announcement calling for a boycott of the list and its people.

It read:

The participation of a Palestinian list in the occupation’s municipal elections in Jerusalem is a shameless normalization that serves the plans of the occupation. The Israeli occupation municipality in Jerusalem is committing crimes against our people, including the demolition of houses and the intensive construction of illegal settlements, as part of a plan for the gradual forced displacement of Palestinians, therefore one should not participate in the elections since it is a “fig tree” in the process, and being marketed as democratic.14

Al-Hout responded: “We do not flinch or give in to threats and attempts to terrorize us. The Arab public in East Jerusalem wants change and understands that the way to achieve it and correct discrimination is through representation.”15

Those boycotting the elections say that in the event of the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, any effective participation in the elections for an Israeli “unified” city will weaken the demand for Jerusalem to be redivided or even under any kind of Palestinian sovereignty.



Peggy Cidor, “Jerusalem Elections Are Here: Who Will Run Jerusalem?Jerusalem Post, February 25, 2024.


Omar Yaniv, Jerusalem: Facts and Trends 2023: The State of the City and Changing Trends (Jerusalem: Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research, 2023), 14.


Gianluca Pacchiani, “Fighting Community’s Boycott of Politics, Lawyer Runs to Be Community’s First Mayor,” Times of Israel, August 22, 2023.


Sondos al-Hout, interview by the authors, February 25, 2024. All subsequent quotes from al-Hout are from this interview.


IDF Soldiers Vote at Warzone Polling Stations for Local Elections,” Jerusalem Post, February 25, 2024.


Ahmad Saeeda, interview by the authors, February 20, 2024.


Hazem Kawasmi, interview by the authors, February 22, 2024. All subsequent quotes from Kawasmi are from this interview.


Ziad Hammouri, interviewed by the author, February 23, 2024. All subsequent quotes from Hammouri are from this interview.


Anonymous, interview by the authors, February 22, 2024.


Cidor, “Jerusalem Elections Are Here.”


Neighborhoods beyond the Wall,” Jerusalem Story, accessed February 26, 2024.


Walla, “‘Normalizing the Occupation’: PLO Calls for Boycott against Arab–Israeli List in Local Elections,” Jerusalem Post, February 26, 2024.


Walla, “‘Normalizing the Occupation.’”


Walla, “‘Normalizing the Occupation.’”

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