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Identity struggle under the occupation in East Jerusalem

Nahed Fraitekh Odeh. Photo: supplied
Nahed Fraitekh Odeh. Photo: supplied

In this article I will present Palestinian daily life in Jerusalem, where freedoms, equality, and social justice are denied. Palestinians from Jerusalem, who are residents of Israel and hold Israeli identity cards, face many struggles.

For Palestinians, Jerusalem is the heart of Palestine and is always in their hearts. After occupying the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the Israeli occupation seized over 23 square kilometres of East Jerusalem and surrounding areas. The Israeli government built more than 35,000 housing units, and is still building, while the Palestinians do not have the right to build one unit. The Palestinians from East Jerusalem then became residents of Israel.

The Palestinians who hold an Israeli identity card have the right to live in Jerusalem and only Jerusalem. They are allowed to travel in Israel from one area to another but they cannot under any circumstances live outside the borders of Jerusalem.

The Israeli authorities created, and still are creating, many laws and regulations in order to make the city of Jerusalem Jewish, such as the Israeli Order No. 11, which states that any person who changes their place of residence loses the right to return to Jerusalem. This applies not only to moving out of Palestine (Israel), but also to moving outside the municipal limits. All this is in order to change the demographic balance in favour of the Israelis and make the Arabs a minority population in the city.

Having an Israeli identity card doesn’t mean that the Palestinians have any rights like the Israeli citizens, as they don’t have any political rights, such as the right to vote in parliamentary elections, and they don’t have a passport to travel overseas. They have a travel document with a Jordanian or an unknown nationality. This document has to be renewed every two years. Also, it has a visa that allows the holder to return to Israel, and if the holder has exceeded the time limit of the visa, the person loses the right to return.

Another struggle with the identity card is that, if a Jerusalemite marries someone from the West Bank, then this might lead to losing the Jerusalem ID and therefore the right to reside in Jerusalem, and might force the person to live outside the Wall which surrounds the city.

Identity struggle is the experience of many Palestinians living in Jerusalem. Photo: Flickr, Horia Varlan
Identity struggle is the experience of many Palestinians living in Jerusalem. Photo: Flickr, Horia Varlan

What does the Wall mean to the Palestinians?

I live in Qalandia, I hold a Jerusalem ID card, and my home is located on the south side of the Wall. I have two children; both of them have Jerusalem ID cards like me. However, my daughter didn’t receive her ID number until she was four years old. This is because, according to the records of the Ministry of Interior, I live in Ramallah and I cannot apply for an ID for my daughter unless I change my address and provide all the papers and documents to confirm that I am living in Jerusalem. But, I had to live outside the Wall, because my husband is a Palestinian from the West Bank. Although he was born in Jerusalem, he doesn’t have the right to go to Jerusalem without permission because he is regarded a refugee. At the same time, I am required to live with my family in Jerusalem in order to keep my residency.

For most Palestinians access to East Jerusalem has been forbidden since 1993, unless they have an entry permit issued by the Israeli authorities, which is difficult to gain. Additionally, many Palestinian villages that are under the Jerusalem municipality are now separated from Jerusalem by the Wall, leaving approximately 25 per cent of Palestinian Jerusalemites cut off from the city. In places such as Abu Dis, the Wall runs right through Palestinian communities, separating families and neighbours.

Everything has changed since the Wall was built. It affects all aspects of our lives. I can hardly go anywhere, because of the checkpoints. We move around much less now than in the past and rarely go to Jerusalem or elsewhere. The whole family can no longer really afford to go to Jerusalem. Sometimes I prefer to go to any doctor in Ramallah and to pay, rather than to cross the Qalandia checkpoint and go to my doctor, which is covered by the Israeli health insurance.

From the moment the Qalandia checkpoint and the separation wall were created, Palestinians beyond the Wall, including tens of thousands of holders of Israeli IDs, were cut off from the hub of their lives in Jerusalem, unable to cross the checkpoint to work, hospital, or schools without a special permit or their Israeli ID cards.

Palestinians can only enter Jerusalem through four of the 16 existing checkpoints, and only by foot, making it difficult to access anywhere including the holy areas. Also, permits become invalid whenever a general closure is declared, usually during Jewish holidays and times of security alerts.

Currently, I live in Sydney with my family for the purpose of my study. When we go back next year my son will be 15 years old, which means that he will need to go to Jerusalem schools to confirm his and our residency. In order to do so, he will need to cross the Qalandia checkpoint two times every day. At the Qalandia checkpoint for example, the waiting time can range from 20 minutes to 1.5 hours.

It is impossible to apply for for a residency ID in Jerusalem for my husband, while it is forbidden for me to apply for a Palestinian identity because I am from Jerusalem. This is part of the Palestinian Authority’s rules, as they believe that if they were to open the door for Palestinians from Jerusalem to apply for a passport then this might give the Israeli government the excuse to withdraw the Jerusalem identities from the people.

Also, the Palestinians have the right to apply for Israeli citizenship, which is not acceptable to the Palestinian Authority, which knows perfectly well that Palestinian Israelis will not be treated like Israeli Jews. This point is very important, as having Israeli citizenship might help the Israeli authority to maintain during any negotiations that most of the people in the city are Israelis.

If I decided to stay in Australia longer than my study required, or I wanted to work in Sydney for a couple of years or so, or I applied for any work or skill visa, I would lose my residency in Jerusalem and I might not be able to go back to Palestine, because I am stateless. Unlike any Jew in the world, I don’t have the right of return.

In conclusion, the policies and actions of the Israeli government make life very difficult for Palestinian Jerusalemites. The illegal annexation of East Jerusalem has led to the withdrawal of Jerusalemites’ ID cards and cancellation of permission to enter Jerusalem for those in the West Bank. The Wall results in internal migration and segregation. The residents of East Jerusalem are prevented from uniting with their families or spouses. And homes are at threat and are being destroyed.

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