- Published on Tuesday, 17 July 2012 12:51
By Joharah Baker
Just the other day, I renewed my coveted one-year residency permit for Jerusalem. Each year, after an onerous process of producing paper after paper, all proving that I indeed live in the Old City of Jerusalem, the Israeli interior ministry bestows on me the "gift" of a residency permit allowing me to remain in Jerusalem.
Even this was not easy to come by. Only after eleven years of marriage, two children, and submitting my utility and phone bills, medical records, property taxes, and deeds countless times, not to mention the accompanying lawyer fees and hassle, were we granted this privilege, which, I might add, is nothing of the sort. Living with my husband and children - both of whom are registered through their father's ID as residents of Jerusalem - in my own home is a basic right for all human beings, except of course, if you are a Palestinian.
Obviously, this is not my battle alone. Tens of thousands of "mixed" couples have found themselves in a bind, either trapped inside Jerusalem or trapped outside of Israel's unilaterally declared municipal boundaries with the threat of losing their permanent residency in the city altogether. After Israel's wall began snaking its way in and around the West Bank, it also sliced many of the Palestinian neighbourhoods of Jerusalem straight through, pushing them over the de facto Israeli border (a far cry from the 1949 armistice line which is now internationally recognised as the 1967 borders) into the West Bank. These roughly 100,000 Palestinians may still retain their Jerusalem ID cards for the time being, but with Israel's long-term plans to push as many Palestinians out of the city as possible, thus transforming it into a purely Jewish capital, nothing is guaranteed. Already these neighbourhoods have a severe lack of municipal services because Israeli companies are not willing to cross over to the "Palestinian side" of the wall. Should these residents one day fail to show that their "centre of life" is in Jerusalem, they will be at risk of losing their IDs altogether. Since 1967, Israel has revoked some 14,500 residency cards from Palestinian Jerusalem residents, with 4,500 revoked in 2008 alone.
I, however, have not even reached the point of obtaining a Jerusalem ID. This is mostly due to Israel's introduction of the Nationality and Entry into Israel Law in 2003, which bans a family member who is an Israeli citizen from reuniting with someone from the Palestinian territories (or enemy countries such as Syria, Lebanon, or Iran). While Jerusalemites are not Israeli citizens but permanent residents, this applies to them as well. So technically, if you are denied a residency permit - which by the way does not give you the right to work, vote, drive, or have medical insurance in the city - you can be kicked out of Jerusalem with no legal recourse.
Just before the eleven-year mark when I finally did get a residency permit, I had a bone-chilling experience when the Israelis came knocking at the door. It was in the middle of Israel's invasion of Gaza at the end of 2008, and Palestinians everywhere were out in the streets demonstrating against the killings. It was nighttime, my husband was at work, and I was with my two young children at home watching cartoons. After a demonstration at the Aqsa Mosque, Israeli soldiers and police began banging down doors in our neighbourhood. I went numb, not so much because I feared the Israelis, but because I knew that if I opened for them and they checked my ID card they would know I was "illegal." So I turned off the lights, kept my terrified children as quiet as mice, and waited until the pounding stopped. I was lucky that night, but I also knew this was all part and parcel of a racist policy to keep Palestinians out of Jerusalem. Even if they manage to stay, Israel is sure to make their lives as difficult as possible. Israel has never made its intention of keeping the Palestinian population of Jerusalem no more than 22 per cent a secret, and it will do anything in its power to maintain that ratio, including separating mothers from children and husbands from wives.
It is a cruel policy, but Israel has always employed the philosophy that the end justifies the means. And so, we are never surprised at what it might do to "cleanse" Jerusalem of its Palestinian population. My part right now is to endure along with the rest of my family. I will endure the fact that my sisters cannot come from the West Bank to visit me, or that I cannot drive in my own car to see them. I will endure the humiliating visits to Israel's interior ministry each year to prove something that should be a human right for all. And I will endure the fact that when I travel, my children must leave from the airport near Tel Aviv, while I must exit from Jordan because we do not carry the same identification. All this I will endure, because the moment I see an Israeli settler prancing around the Old City of Jerusalem, living in a house that is rightfully Palestinian, I know my battle, however small, is worth it.
Johara Baker has been working in Palestinian media for the past thirteen years. She is currently a translator of the Arabic press for the Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre and a writer for MIFTAH.
Previously Published at This Week in Palestine