Wed 28 Feb 2024 8:05 am - Jerusalem Time

The Palestinian woman running in Jerusalem's municipal elections

In-depth: Nazareth-born Sondos Alhoot is running in Israel's municipal elections, but Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem are expected to boycott the vote.

 “There is a lack of equality in Jerusalem, so I want to help Arab society - East Jerusalem - get their rights from the municipality,” Sondos Alhoot said during a campaign event this week.

On 27 February, Jerusalemites go to the polls and Alhoot is on the ballot, aiming to become the first Palestinian woman on Jerusalem’s city council.

Alhoot, 33, is leading the All Its Residents party list for the election, an offshoot of All Its Citizens, a new, joint Arab-Jewish political party in Israel founded in 2022 seeking to transform the state into a real democracy serving all its people. 

"Palestinians believe that if they vote or not, it'll never make a change. Other Palestinians say we do not want to give legitimacy to the occupation over our land by voting and recognising [Israel] as the controller of the cities"

During a “candidate house party” on 19 February, Alhoot spoke passionately about the power of language to a group of nearly 70 Jerusalem voters.

“Language can be a bridge that connects people,” Alhoot, an Arabic and Hebrew teacher, told the crowd. Her campaign promises include having Hebrew taught in occupied East Jerusalem and Arabic taught in the Western part of the city. She’s also advocating increasing building permits for East Jerusalem and improving checkpoint traffic.

When surveyed, the majority in attendance said she had their vote. Yet the party, held in an affluent neighbourhood in West Jerusalem, consisted of mostly elderly Hebrew and English-speaking Israelis - a far cry from the Palestinians living in East Jerusalem Alhoot wants to represent.

While Alhoot met with residents in the Palestinian neighbourhoods of Kafr 'Aqab, Beit Safafa, and Beit Hanina, most Palestinian Jerusalemites hadn’t heard of the Nazareth-born candidate. And the fact that she didn’t grow up in the city is of particular significance. Alhoot moved to Jerusalem 15 years ago to study at Hebrew University.

“Having our brothers and sisters from the ‘48 areas [modern-day Israel] coming into Jerusalem and trying to run the show is not acceptable because they don't understand,” Ali Ghaith, a Palestinian Jerusalemite advocate, told The New Arab.

“They’ve grown up under that system and have certain perspectives of the government that we don't have in Jerusalem. If you want to represent the people, you have to be from the people - having lived their trauma and their conditions.”

Ghaith added: “Running for municipal elections is the first sign that they actually don't understand the community”.

Most Palestinians in East Jerusalem are permanent residents of the city and don’t have Israeli citizenship, meaning they can vote and run in municipal elections but not nationally, and are prohibited from running for mayor.

Since Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1967, Palestinian Jerusalemites have boycotted municipal elections and no Palestinian has been elected to the city council. Some Palestinians, even those originally from East Jerusalem, have tried running but without success.

“Some Palestinians believe that if they vote or not, it'll never make a change,” Yazan Risheq from Palestinian not-for-profit Grassroots Al-Quds said. “Other Palestinians say we do not want to give legitimacy to the occupation over our land by voting and recognising [Israel] as the controller of the cities.”

"There's an elephant in the room, which is the occupation. And it doesn't end by joining forces with the arms of the occupation"

Alhoot wants to break this boycott, saying, “After the war, this is our time to choose someone to be our representative. If not, we will lose everything”.

Dimitri Diliani, a spokesperson for the Palestinian Fateh reformist movement, believes the issue isn’t a lack of representation though, highlighting how even Palestinian cities which aren’t annexed or have Palestinians in government, like Lydd and Nazareth, still suffer from neglect.

Palestinians are even part of Israel’s parliament, yet the Jewish nation-state law, legislation enshrining Jewish supremacy, was passed while they’ve been in office.

“Discrimination is not at the municipal level,” Diliani said. “Discrimination is in the foundations of the state of Israel that is built on a supremacist ideology that transcends itself into roads and services and home demolitions.”

The elephant in the room

Israel’s war on Gaza has played a prominent role in this election, and on Alhoot’s campaign.

 “The 7th of October came and it changed a lot of what could have been acceptable at one time,” Samer Sinijlawi, a Palestinian Jerusalemite activist, told TNA. “The level of tension between Palestinians and Israelis is very high.”

All Its Citizens founder, Gershon Baskin, said before the war began he knew of both Palestinians and Jews who would have voted for Alhoot. Now, amid the grief and trauma, those same Palestinians refuse to participate in Israeli elections.

“There were Jews in Jerusalem who would've considered voting for this party before the war,” Baskin said. “After the war, they're feeling so traumatised and fearful of Arabs in general that they won't vote as they might have.”

Alhoot said some Palestinian Jerusalemites have called her a traitor for running. Yet she counters these remarks by responding that if Palestinians are paying taxes, then they are cooperating with municipal authorities while receiving little in return.

Roughly 10 per cent of the Jerusalem municipality’s budget is spent on East Jerusalem, despite Palestinians forming over 40% of the city’s population.

As Alhoot argues that having a Palestinian in office will improve East Jerusalem’s conditions, others suggest she’s misunderstanding the core issue.

 “There's an elephant in the room, which is the occupation,” Ghaith said. “And it doesn’t end by joining forces with the arms of the occupation.”


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The Palestinian woman running in Jerusalem's municipal elections