Joharah Baker: What Nationality Did You Say You Were?

By Joharah Baker

My older brother recently informed me that his three children were eligible for US passports, given that he, like myself and my other siblings, were all born in the United States. But my nephew and niece were hardly without citizenship even before this most recent discovery. Married to a Palestinian/German woman with both German [or EU] and Israeli citizenship, my brother’s children also have European Union passports while the baby, born in Palestine is also the bearer of an Israeli passport.

Not bad, for one family. It is safe to say that my brother, his wife and their three beautiful children are secure for life, never having to worry about finding themselves nation-less or without citizenship.

This is hardly the case for most Palestinians living in the eastern sector of Jerusalem. Following Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem in the 1967 War, those residents who happened to be present in the city at the time of the national census were granted “permanent residency status” in the city. Less than citizenship, this status placed these residents in a somewhat stable but constantly precarious situation.

It is not that the newly installed Israeli authority did not offer Palestinians Israeli citizenship. However, there were heavy strings attached, including an allegiance to the state, learning Hebrew and ultimately relinquishing their unique status of Palestinians in Jerusalem, the self-proclaimed capital of the Jewish state. Given that the wounds of the recent and previous war [of 1948] were still raw, this was not deemed an honorable option. Accepting Israeli citizenship was perceived as a ploy to neutralize the Palestinian presence and tip the demographic scales in favor of the rising Jewish majority. Hence, most Palestinian Jerusalemites opted for the residency status, thus upholding what they viewed as their national struggle against Israel.

With this system securely in place, Israel retained the right, at any time, to withdraw or suspend the status of any Jerusalemite under suspicion of acts of Palestinian national resistance. While this remained mostly a threat on paper, over the past decade or so, Israel has begun to put this self-granted power into practice, creating a myriad of reasons why this status could be revoked.

In 1995, Israel enforced the so-called “Center of Life” policy, which entails that Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem must prove that their center of life is within the unilaterally proclaimed municipality borders of Jerusalem. This means, Jerusalemites must produce proof that they live, work, go to school and pay taxes inside Jerusalem. Anything short of this puts them at risk of ID confiscation, all of their municipal rights revoked.

This new law touched thousands of families, especially those who married spouses holding West Bank IDs and who decided to make their homes outside of Jerusalem. Such decisions were usually made after the failure to obtain family reunification in Jerusalem. This process (whereby a non-Jerusalem resident is granted residency status on grounds of marriage to a Jerusalemite) is an extremely cumbersome, lengthy and oftentimes fruitless process. It has left tens of thousands of families in limbo, living either “illegally” within Jerusalem’s borders – at risk at all times of deportation outside the city – or living outside of Jerusalem and therefore at risk of losing their Jerusalem IDs.

According to the Jerusalem Center for Social and Economic Rights, the Israeli Interior Ministry recorded a 500 percent increase in Palestinians who lost their residency rights compared to previous years, estimated at 1.363 people last year alone.

There are a number of other “justifications” given for revoking Jerusalem ID’s including residing outside the country for a number of years. Some residents have even reported that they were informed of this risk after a period of six months. Jerusalemites outside the country always run the risk of not being allowed back into the country on grounds that their ID’s have been revoked. Furthermore, Israeli “law” in East Jerusalem prohibits holders of permanent Jerusalem residency to also have residency of any other country. This is also grounds for ID confiscation.

This “center of life” policy has further exasperated the situation of Palestinian Jerusalemites after the construction of the separation wall, which has cut into former Jerusalem suburbs and put it residents on the West Bank side of the barrier. It is predicted that these areas will eventually be pushed out of Jerusalem and included in Palestinian Authority areas. Tens of thousands of Jerusalemites would then have automatically lost their rights to the city.

While this is a contravention of basic human rights for which Israel should not be allowed a free hand, it is less detrimental to those who hold multiple citizenships and who can build their lives somewhere else. For Palestinian Jerusalemites, this is a gross and devastating violation of their basic right to life. In practical terms, if a Jerusalem resident – who has no other citizenship – has their ID revoked, they are basically stateless, with no rights to any country. This means no medical or national insurance, no means of traveling, no rights to land or property or to marry and register children.

This looming threat has left Palestinians in Jerusalem constantly scurrying for validation. For any simple government-required task such as marriage and birth certificates, Jerusalemites are demanded to produce paper upon paper, proving that their center of life is within the municipality borders. School and medical records are carefully preserved and electricity, water and telephone bills are stashed way in safe places for future reference.

Still, it is this silent battle being waged by the Israeli government aimed at ridding its “eternal capital” of any Palestinian presence that is going on virtually unnoticed. Israel openly admits that it keeps the Arab Palestinian population in Jerusalem at less than 30 percent. With these recent and even more discriminatory measures, it seems it is bringing the bar down considerably. While the world focuses on bogus promises of peace and pitting one Palestinian group against another, Israel continues to deprive Jerusalem’s Palestinians of their most basic rights, undeterred.

So, if for some reason, my brother’s children do not get their US passports or the other two children are not granted Israeli citizenship like their mother and youngest sister, they have at least one other passport to fall back on. Unfortunately, most Jerusalemites cannot claim this same luxury. If for example, my Jerusalemite relatives lose their ID cards, they have no other country to call their own.
(MIFTAH – – August 1, 2007) 

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