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East Jerusalem teenager on life as a stateless Palestinian

By Jalal Abukhater

Under Israeli law, it is illegal for me to live in the West Bank. More accurately, if I am discovered to be living there, my blue Israeli identification card may be taken away, and replaced  by a West Bank ID card.  Meanwhile, Jewish settlers are allowed to come from all over the world and settle legally (under Israeli law) in the Palestinian West Bank.

I am a Palestinian who lives in the occupied eastern part of Jerusalem. I am required to carry around my blue Israeli identification card, which permits me to cross checkpoints daily from my house in Jerusalem to my school in Ramallah and back. Carrying the blue identification card enables me to travel “freely” across the West Bank and 1948 Palestine [modern-day Israel – eds.],while those carrying West Bank and Gaza ID cards are not able to leave those areas without special Israeli issued permits. The blue ID is often viewed as a privilege. Yet for me, carrying this blue ID card is more of a curse than it is a blessing.

I am not a full citizen of the state of Israel. Neither am I a full citizen of the Palestinian Authority. I am not even Jordanian. I do not hold any official nationality nor am I allowed to hold any. I carry an Israeli semi-passport and a “temporary” Jordanian-issued semi-passport. Living under these circumstances is unbearable.

Arabs living in 1948 Palestine do have full Israeli “official” citizenship. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are officially considered Palestinians and do hold official citizenship. When I am required to fill in any kind of form that asks who I am and where I live, I write ‘Jordanian’ as my nationality, and address as Jerusalem, Israel. This is the reality lived by all Palestinian Jerusalem residents who are not citizens of Israel. I am not sure how Israel defines us, but surely it is not as a citizen of Israel; rather we are seen as temporary citizens waiting to be expelled to some other land soon.

We Jerusalem residents live under the threat of losing our Jerusalem ID cards if the Israeli authorities find out that we have a house in the Palestinian West Bank. In effect, this means we are not allowed to live in the West Bank. But it is not at all easy for us to buy or rent a property to live in inside Israel – the laws of the apartheid state of Israel make it extremely hard to obtain a permit to build a house, or renovate an already existing house anywhere. All around Eastern Jerusalem, residents struggle to obtain building permits to fit their new family members in, while a Jewish person can easily obtain a permit and build a whole residential compound to fit few family members. All of this, I believe, is a part of the plan to ethnically cleanse Jerusalem and Palestine of all Arabs, Muslims and Christians alike.

On the other hand, carrying the Jerusalem ID does not allow us to obtain any other worldwide nationality! If Israeli apartheid authorities find out that a person with a Jerusalem ID has a foreign passport (For example: Canadian or American), they will take away his ID, deport him, and confiscate his property.

The racial bias is extremely annoying. Jewish citizens of Israel are permitted to carry many foreign passports and nationalities along with his Israeli passport. An Israeli Jew might carry an American passport, a German passport, a French passport, and a Belgium passport along with his Israeli passport, while an Arab citizen carrying a Jerusalem ID is not able to even carry a Palestinian passport or a full Israeli passport, as if we are non-existent humans. Further, the Israeli government claims that settlements are needed to supply room for “natural growth” (increasing family size) and the increasing Jewish population; yet the increase of the Arab population is not met with any extra housing of any type. Arabs are not even allowed to add an extra room to their houses due to  Israeli laws.

My father has always told me our struggle with holding this identification card is a struggle of existence. Giving up this ID card to move somewhere else would be giving up our eternal right in the land of Palestine and Jerusalem. Jerusalem was never meant to be for any specific people, race, or religion. Jerusalem is the holy city that accepts people from all around the globe and from all different religions!

I will not accept being treated as an inferior citizen, I demand equality in living. Jerusalem is my city, I am an existing human being who demands human rights, as any other citizen living in any other country in the world. Palestinians exist.  We have the right to exist and travel freely in our land without worrying every minute about being expelled just for where we have chosen to live.

Jalal Abukhater is a 16-year old resident of East Jerusalem. He is a high school senior at a school in Ramallah. You can follow him on twitter @JalalAK_jojo

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    1. Kobayashi

      Depressing read. One question for clarification, though: aren’t blue ID card holders and residents of East Jerusalem – like Jalal and his family – entitled to take out Israeli citizenship? Not that I’d suggest that they should, or would want to, but…

      Reply to Comment
    2. Leonid Levin

      Jalal, if what you say is accurate (and I believe it is), I cannot help but agree with you that the purpose of such humiliating and unjust treatment is to smoke you and your fellow Arab Jerusalemites out of Jerusalem and to essentially make it a Jewish-only city. This is deeply disturbing and sad.

      It seems that we, the Jewish people, have been turning from some of the most universalist, humble, tolerant, compassionate and humane people on the planet into trabalist, clanish, arrogant, hateful, fearful and intolerant nationalists. The bitter irony of this situation is that Jews were subject to this kind of treatment for centuries in the ghettos of Western Europe and within the pale of settlement in Imperial Russia.

      There will undoubtedly be those who would tell you that you’re still better off in Israel than many Palestinians and Arabs in the Arab world. Most of these people have probably never been discriminated and treated like this. They are unable to feel your pain and the misery of your situation.

      Keep fighting for your rights and stay human!

      Reply to Comment
    3. Michael W.

      I second Kobayashi’s question, can’t Jalal take/apply for Israeli citizenship since he does live in territory annexed by Israel?

      Reply to Comment
    4. Residents of East Jerusalem are entitled to apply for full Israeli citizenship if they do not ask for the Palestinian-Jordanian ID, but many don’t do it out of justified patriotic motives. They do not want to be viewed as Israelis. Plus, it’s a hell of a struggle to actually get the citizenship.
      Volunteering at the Association for Civil Rgits and helping a group of Palestinian women from the Eastern part of occupied Jerusalem, I’ve been exposed to the horrible conditions that East Jerusalem residents endure on a daily basis. They eat and drink discrimination. From the wall, to the discriminatory policies in housing, residency, national insurance to the settlements….it’s a well-entrenched system of oppression and marginalisation.
      Jalal, I’m incredibly proud of you. No-one could have put that more eloquently and honestly. And remember, your existence is a form of resistance. Keep up the great work. <3

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    5. max

      Jalal, your situation is indeed not what we wish for you. You may want to look up the Pechtel survey (http://izs.org.il/documents/PMEP%20E%20Jerusalem%20Highlights%20with%20Exec%20Summary%20Jan25%201003pm%20Eastern.pdf) to find out where your personal experience places you in relation to other Palestinians in East Jerusalem.
      Specifically in regards to citizenship: you’re right, your rights aren’t equal to that of other Israelis, including Arab Israelis – they’re allowed to hold several passports. In parallel, however, the decision NOT to become an Israeli citizen is fully yours, and by what you write your decision wasn’t due to a wish to keep other nationalities. I presume the decision was politically motivated – so why not accept the consequences? How can you honestly complain about not having Israeli citizenship when you refuse it?
      You may also relax a bit: to keep residency, one needs only to come for a visit every 3 years. It probably doesn’t solve the disparity in rights, but on the other hand, how else would Israel control the situation of people that refuse citizenship?
      And talking about refusal: when in 2 years you’re allowed, although not citizen, to vote in municipal elections, will you use your right (after all, you’re part of 30% of jerusalem’s resident, quite a powerful body!) or prefer to leave the ground to the others and complain that your needs are overlooked? Just imagine the potential impact of a 30% political block in Jerusalem’s policies!
      It’s a pity that national struggles affect people, but it’s really your choice. I appreciate your decision to put your national interest ahead of your own; I can’t agree with your complains about the results.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Leonid Levin

      Max, I understand your point, but your argument reminds me of the argument of many in Russian Empire, who said to the Jews that if they converted to Christianity they could leave the Pale of Settlement and enjoy the same rights as the rest of Russians. Would you tell the Jews in the Pale to either convert or stop complaining?

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    7. raymond cahill

      I live in Ireland.I am 50yr old catholic.I grew up
      in an area where we had inferior schools,housing,
      no prospect of a job,could not join the army,police,or get a state job.I watched two communities kill,bomb,each other all my.We had the
      british government deny us our rights,police turn
      a blind eye,courts that were a joke,We also had the IRA rebels or terrorists telling us we had to fight for our freddom,we became so confused,and when the british army kick your door in at 3am.and trash our house for no reason, to watch my mum & dad cry,to see my dad feel like a sub-human,unable to protect his family,to watch army thugs urinate on our furniture.Hatred grows quickly,soon you become worse than your enemy.To see kids used to transport things they should never hold,cause its easier for kids to pass checkpoints.To watch people celebrate at the taking of another human life.It takes a Hero(a real hero on each side)We found our hero”s.At first they were called traitors.But with time we managed to settle our issues,Both sides had to give,and it hurt,we at times felt let down.But then pres Clinton got involved,18months later we had a peace accord,and 13yrs later still have it.I always remember one quote,”you cant tear the past out of history books,but you can turn the page on the past,and this is what Israel needs.I spent 12yrs in the US most of my friends were jewish,they were all very good people,most liberal politically,they had one thing in common they all wanted a 2 state solution to this problem.Thats what i dont understand???about where they(israeli gov) think this will end??Do they know or care that the world believe they are a pariah state,I have seen jews over gettin shit because they are jewish,its awful to watch,its wrong,do Israel not care about their extended family. I wish peace in your time,its worth it.Sometimes my 10yr old daughter does not believe me when i tell her about the troubles,ITS GREAT!!!

      Reply to Comment
    8. Michael W.

      Leonid, the Russian Empire comparison is not a comparison at all. There is a difference between converting and gaining citizenship. There are over a million Muslims with Israeli citizenship. They didn’t have to convert. You are confusing legal and political issues with religious status issues.

      I second Max’s question, why don’t the Palestinian of E. Jerusalem vote in municipality elections? Isn’t it obvious that the city won’t care for their needs if they don’t even bother to vote.

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    9. max

      Leonid, I was being a bit sarcastic but your comparison isn’t correct. In Russia (as in much of the Muslim world for long periods – Europe was sometimes worse, but changed earlier…) the issue was religious, not political. As a non-citizen, even when for the best of reasons, you’re not entitled to equal citizenship rights in any country I’m aware of. An American living in France is barred from many jobs; getting French citizenship would mean losing her/his American one. It’s a political decision the person has to make.
      I do NOT claim that Arabs in East Jerusalem that do have an Israeli citizenship have equal rights, and that’s something I think is worth fighting for. But when a person makes a political decision there’s a world-wide accepted price for it.
      The part that I really can’t understand is the unwillingness to participate in the municipal policy steering activities, which doesn’t require any discernable compromise; after all, they did participate in Jordanian and Ottoman much less democratic activities!
      The democratic system isn’t only about personal choice but also about accepting responsibility for your choices.
      A couple of additional notes:
      – I do believe that the Israeli authorities are doing what they legally can to reduce the number of Arabs in east Jerusalem. To understand – though not necessarily agree – with it, one must apply some perspective, as the situation didn’t emerge in a vacuum: after the Jordanians captured Jerusalem, all Jews were expelled and the Jewish quarter razed to the ground.
      – Ignoring the security threat when discussing the rights of Arabs in East Jerusalem isn’t reasonable, and the fact is that up to the Oslo accord and ensuing terror acts they had more freedom than today.

      Reply to Comment
    10. SINJIM

      My god, how tone deaf can these people get! The solution to Jerusalem Palestinians’ problems is voting, now? Why, because that’s worked out so fucking well for the Palestinian citizens of Israel? Voting won’t change the fact that the West Jerusalem municipal government is designed to exclude Palestinians, just as voting in Israel will never change the fact that the Knesset is designed to exclude Palestinians.
      Max wants to make light of the burdens and roadblocks that Israel puts in the way of Jerusalem Palestinians. He tells Jalal to “relax,” with all the White Privilege of an American Republican. After all, he says, you just need to make sure you spend time in Jerusalem every 3 years. Of course, if you’re out of the country, and can’t afford the trip back in, well, I guess as far as Max is concerned you’re SOL.
      Rather than deal with the fact that the West Jerusalem municipality government is specifically racist towards Palestinians, Max and Michael W. blame Palestinians for being on the receiving end of these policies. Palestinians shouldn’t be required to vote in order to get basic garbage pick-up and public services that a city is supposed to provide. They shouldn’t be required to vote in order to not be treated as if they’re recent immigrants from a foreign land rather than the natives that they actually are.
      Jalal, thank you for your eloquence, and I’m so sorry that you and your family have to deal with this institutionalized racism and those who defend it. Your intelligence and sumoud will save our people. عاش شعب فلسطين!

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    11. Michael W.

      Sinjim, how exactly is the Knesset desgined to exclude Palestinians? If the Arab parties and Hadash(communist?) have conflicting platforms than the other mainstream parties, they won’t be involved in coalitions. Like Max said, you have to accept the consequences of your political descisions.

      If the Knesset was really designed to exclude the Arabs, they would raise the percentage of votes needed to gain seats to something like 10% (like in Turkey).

      Also sinjim, what is the W. Jerusalem municipality? I thought E. and W. Jerusalem were under the same municipality.

      If E. Jerusalem Arabs voted in municipality elections, they could put their representatives in the city council, or at least make canidates for mayor consider the power of the Arab vote.

      E. Jerusalem Arabs have to learn that in order to get favorable policy towards your neighborhood, you need to vote like they do in Western countries. They are not in an Arab country anymore where you have to organize mass protests to be heard, like they do in Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, should I continue.

      Does anyone know of cases that dealt with this issue that went to the Israel Supreme Court?

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    12. max

      Sinjim, I don’t for a moment believe that you think that democracy means the abolition of power plays.

      Reply to Comment
    13. directrob

      “…our eternal right in the land of Palestine and Jerusalem. Jerusalem was never meant to be for any specific people, race, or religion…”
      Well said, well said indeed.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Sinjim

      Palestinians are allowed to be elected to the Knesset and are then ignored by the Jewish establishment. Israeli Zionist parties have no problem with entering into coalitions with non-Zionist Haredi parties, but any Palestinian party is automatically treif. So it’s a wonderful arrangement. Palestinians are left out of the state’s decision-making processes, while people like Michael W. and Max claim that it’s only politics.
      There is absolutely no evidence that if Jerusalem Palestinians were to vote, the municipality would suddenly care about their needs. Every indication is that any Palestinian elected to the West Jerusalem government would be marginalized as other Palestinian politicians are marginalized. The plight of Jerusalem Palestinians has nothing to do with their not voting, and everything to do with the policy of making all of East Jerusalem majority Jewish.

      Reply to Comment
    15. max

      “There is absolutely no evidence …” “Every indication is …”
      Way to go!
      I’d say it’s worth a try, what do you think?
      After all, Arabs do participate in the government and in the Supreme court, and the vote of Arab MKs count as much as that of Jewish MKs!

      Reply to Comment
    16. Leonid Levin

      Max and Michael W.:

      I am not saying that the situations of the Jews in the Pale and the Palestinians in East Jerusalem are identical, yet there’re important similarities. Both are/were required to give up their beliefs in order to get something in return. In my opinion, the differences between religious and political convictions are blurred. Your belief in Zionism seems to be as religious as that of a Jewish/Christian/Muslim fundamentalist in their god. So does Jalal believe in the right of his people to live in the city of their ancestors in peace, freedom and dignity as Palestinians. In a broad sense, religion can be defined as a frame of reference in which one thinks, feels and acts. As it was unthinkable for most Jews not to convert to Christianity in order to gain priveleges, so it can be unthinkable for many Palestinians not to give up their convictions and dignity in order to have a bit more freedom. Note, I don’t judge those who converted or changed their beliefs/convictions. Every person decides these things for themselves. Yet a human being should have the right to remain true to their convictions and still be treated with respect, dignity and compassion.

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    17. max

      Leonid, the similarity is that in an ideal – fully hypothetical, see my example of an American in Paris – world, one shouldn’t have to give up anything in order to have rights equal to all around her/him.
      What is Jalal required to give up in order to vote in municipal elections? Further, what is he giving up for getting Israeli citizenship? Not even his dream (if he’s part of the minority in East Jerusalem) of living in a Palestinian state, if this ends up including E.J.!
      I agree with you that he should be treated with respect, dignity and compassion, and this probably isn’t the case.
      And here we get to the question of cause and effect, which I can’t really judge. As I wrote, years ago the situation was drastically different and it changed when terrorism started.
      We’re now in a vicious cycle, where Jalal talks about “The apartheid laws of the Israeli state need to be abolished! This system is slowly turning to be EXTREMELY similar to 1935 Nazi Germany, we don’t want it to turn to 1939 Nazi Germany or further” (conveniently dropped from this post) and some Israelis considering him a natural terrorist.
      That’s really the sad situation. That’s the story of the past 100 years.

      Reply to Comment
    18. Chaim

      He CHOSE to study at the occupied territories, but he has an Israeli citizenship which allows him to do anything any other Israeli can do. A fine example of Apartheid racism, no?

      And as a resident of Tel Aviv, I can testify that getting build permits in East Jerusalem is 10000 times easier than in Tel Aviv. Jerusalem is crowded, Tel Aviv is even more crowded. If that’s your proof of how evil the Jews are and how poor the Arabs are you really need to ramp up your research/propaganda department.

      Reply to Comment
    19. Palestinians in East Jerusalem are entitled to citizenship according to the law but not to reality. The procedures are ridiculous, long and include going to Jordan and getting a paper saying that you relinquished your Jordanian citizenship. A question, do Jews who move to Israel have to give up their citizenship before Aliya?

      Reply to Comment
    20. Kernod

      If Jalal and hundreds of thousands of other Palestinians that can potentially acquire Israeli citizenship, I have no doubt that this right will be curtailed and, for all intents and purpose, removed. The Israeli Ministry of Interior, that controls such things has an impeccable track record of preventing any non-Jew, even if married to an Israeli citizen, from acquiring Israeli citizenship.

      Stating this as some mitigation of the Israeli denial of human rights to these residents of occupied Jerusalem is hypocritical.

      Jews can live in Israel whether they want citizenship or not. They can get every right except the right to vote in national elections and hold elected national office. They can leave and come back, hold any citizenship of the world that they like.

      Israel discriminates against non-Jews in every conceivable way.

      Reply to Comment
    21. Leonid Levin

      Max, I’m afraid your analogy with Americans in France stands in this case. I don’t think that an American who has a work permit in France is barred from any jobs anymore than any other non-French citizen. Americans in France are treated as any other non-EU citizens as far as work permits and naturalization are concerned. Americans can travel freely to and from France. Dual citizenship has been permitted since 1973. Possession of one or more other nationalities, does not, in principle, affect the French nationality.

      What Jalal would be giving up for acquiring Israeli citizenship? Why doesn’t he vote? I don’t know. It’s his decision based on his convictions. Some people in this thread have tried to answer these questioins.

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    22. Leonid Levin

      oops, I meant to say: I’m afraid your analogy with Americans in France doesn’t hold in this case.

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    23. max

      Do you really think that foreigners would be able to get a job in an American classified area? In America, there’s even a job for which you can apply only if you were born American…
      I used the American in Paris example because there – I know from a personal encounter – this applies even in such areas as geology.
      That’s what I was referring to: there’s no country I’m aware of where non-citizens will get the same rights as citizens; the extent of it depends on various factors, security being often at the top.
      When becoming American, one must pledge “to renounce and abjure absolutely and entirely all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which the applicant was before a subject or citizen.”
      In practice, this isn’t enforced, though some law makers want to legalize the implications.

      Reply to Comment
    24. Leonid Levin

      Max, from my personal experience of living as a legal (Belarusian) alien in the Netherlands, the only right that I didn’t have was to vote in the national elections and to be elected. Plus I had to extend my residence permit every 5 years. Also I probably couldn’t join the army and security services. That’s it. No other restrictions I am aware of. I could get any job based on my qualifications, travel freely to and from the country, hold multiple nationalities, buy land and property, etc.

      The fact that Jalal living in his city of birth and probably the city of his ancestors and having been deprived of many of basic human and civil rights is unjust and unjustifiable.

      Reply to Comment
    25. Saeed Hotary

      I believe in Jalals right to live in dignity in Al Quds
      I believe in Leonids right to live in dignity in Minsk
      I believe in Maxs right to live in dignity in Brooklyn
      I believe in Kobayashis right to live in dignity in Tokyo
      I believe in directrob right to live in dignity in London
      I believe in Raymods right to live in dignity in Belfast
      I believe in SinJIMs right to live in dignity in Manila

      Reply to Comment
    26. Dannecker

      There wont be any peace in Jerusalem until the jewish occupiers leave both east and west Jerusalem. That is obvious

      Reply to Comment
    27. Michael W.

      Does 972 approve of dannecker’s statement/position?

      Reply to Comment
    28. max

      I don’t think that there’s a gap between your statement that you could get almost any job in Holland without being a citizen, and my statement that in any country you’ll have limitations to what a non-citizen can do, or the fact that Holland may have different rules than France and again from Israel.
      I also don’t think that the issue is what a Palestinian youngster from East Jerusalem, who hasn’t learned history (to be polite) claims as his rights (and falsely insinuates had better ones) after he decided not to accept Israeli citizenship, and is now facing the context of a violent national struggle.
      I’m not here to justify what Israel is doing – that’s the job of its government and its judicial system (for which, with the caveat that every person may be wrong, I have confidence). I’m simply trying to relate the claims to something I can understand.
      And what I see is that his situation is not enviable. I also see that his claims, when one gets past the emotional part, are bogus, because taken out of context, because not accepting personal responsibility, because comparing apples to oranges.
      So let me challenge you: with the given context, what of the issues Jalal raises would you see can be changed? The only one I could detect is the potential loss of residency, which of course you’d lose in Holland under similar circumstances, but he was born there, and we’re back to citizenship… All the rest is just nonsense. So is this what the post is about?

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    29. Koon Yen

      With regards to citizenship, I doubt it’s quite as simple as a choice of which country to pledge your allegiance to. Like Jalal said, it’s an identity issue, the sense of belonging; I daresay it’s not unlike that passion Jews feel when Israel was created. It’s political and beyond political. Add to that the disputed status of Jerusalem, and you get a complex issue on hand that cannot be simply resolved by ‘choosing.’

      Jalal’s (and all Palestinians’, in fact) conundrum is political, but a political solution (at this moment, at least) is not exactly available – one can only look to the double standards in the jurisdiction to glean the outcome of any political exercise. And to say that religion does not play a part in the situation in historic Palestine is being naive; and once again, might I say, complicated by a politicised religious sensibility.

      The point of departure should be justice and fairness. It’s a much more sturdy foundation to resolve this conflict.

      Reply to Comment
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