Closure and the Dismemberment of Jerusalem


Closure is a little-understood Israeli legal system that places an entire people—Palestinians holding Palestinian Authority IDs—on permanent lockdown in the occupied territories and removes their freedom to move from place to place while exempting another people—Israeli Jews, who live within the same geographic territory—from such restrictions. Closure, first put into effect in 1991 and tightened by many magnitudes in the three decades since, has spawned a massive bureaucracy that governs and controls just about every move Palestinians with these IDs might want to make.

We sat down with Israeli sociologist and human rights lawyer Yael Berda, who has both worked within the system, trying to help many Palestinian clients try to gain some measure of relief, and studied it in depth. Her book Living Emergency: Israel’s Permit Regime in the Occupied West Bank (Stanford University Press, 2017) was perhaps the first to deconstruct this labyrinthine system and expose its very dark side.

Jerusalem Story: Thanks for joining us to discuss the topic of closure in the context of Jerusalem. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Yael Berda: I’m Yael Berda. I am on the faculty at Hebrew University in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology. I’m also a lawyer, and I worked especially in international law and human rights. And I’ve written two books on the subject of the permit regime in the occupied territories. So closure is directly related to that issue. And I work on bureaucratic systems of control and population management—this is the thing that really interests me. I’m interested in it both from a political aspect and from a human rights aspect. And I’ve written on both.

JS: How did you become interested in this issue?

YB: There are two answers to that. I’ve been an activist from a very young age, from the age of 15. I was mostly into social justice issues—the right to housing, the right to education and culture; it took me a while to even realize that there was an occupation going on. In many ways, we Jewish Israelis are not taught the history of the occupation. And so it took me a while to even realize that a system of control was being put in place.

Like many others, I was very excited about the Oslo Accords as a teenager. And I put a lot of hope and faith into that process. But I grew to learn how detrimental the Oslo Accords had been for Palestinians. I became a human rights lawyer; I represented Palestinians mostly.

And then I literally stumbled upon this thing that I called the bureaucracy of the occupation. And nobody around me knew about it. At the time, I began to hear about these permits and work permits. And so I knew about checkpoints, and I even knew about the [Separation] Wall. But I didn’t know about this whole system of permits and closure. It wasn’t something that was known. When I began to ask people about it, I just saw that it wasn’t in the law; the Israeli public didn’t know about it. Palestinians knew about it, just from experience, but nobody could tell exactly what it was and how it was working.

Yael Berda at a checkpoint outside Hebrew University that blocks access to the Palestinian neighborhood of al-‘Isawiyya.

Yael Berda at a checkpoint outside the Hebrew University that blocks access to the adjacent Palestinian neighborhood of al-‘Isawiyya. The neighborhood has been blocked for the past 15 years.


Emil Salman

“I literally stumbled upon this thing that I called the bureaucracy of the occupation. And nobody around me knew about it.”

Yael Berda

YB: I actually went to a sociology professor whom I knew, Yehouda Shenhav, and I told him, “You have to research this. This is very interesting. There’s this whole system. It’s a bureaucracy, and this is what’s holding the occupation together.” A few weeks later, he called me and he said, “I think you should research this, and you should figure this out.”

And that’s basically how I moved from law into sociology and into organizational theory—kind of seeing what was happening and wondering what this system was. So yes, it definitely is not your regular path. But today, I think that people very much do know that closure, restrictions on mobility, and the permit regime are the core; they’re the scaffolding of the occupation. And so we’re in a very different place. It has been about 15 years since I stumbled upon that thing, and now a lot of people have written about it. A lot of people have experienced it.

JS: Your work also helped to make it become more widely known.

YB: Yeah, I think that generally, whether with respect to Jerusalem or the issue of the system that controls Palestinian lives in general, it’s very difficult to get a handle on the knowledge required to understand how it’s working. And that makes things hard for people. So gathering that knowledge, understanding how the system works—and it’s not that we do, really, but we have more of an idea today than we did before, about how the system is actually operating.

“Closure, restrictions on mobility, and the permit regime are the core; they’re the scaffolding of the occupation.”

Yael Berda

JS: That gets us to a great starting-off point for tapping into your expertise about the system. Can explain what “closure” is in the context of Jerusalem?

YB: Before I answer that, I just want to say something about expertise. We tend to think that experts know more about this than the people who experience it. But those who are the greatest experts about this system of control are people who experience it on a daily basis. So, on the one hand, you know, we can say, “I’m an expert of this, and I’m an expert on that.” But at the end of the day, the people one needs to really listen to are the people on the ground. And that becomes hard. So, you know, we are talking because I’m at the university, and I’ve written books and all that. But at the end of the day, I don’t know more than the people who are experiencing this as their daily life. It’s just that their knowledge is not being acknowledged as much as mine is.

Palestinians cross Qalandiya checkpoint to pray at the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem

Palestinians heading in to Jerusalem to pray at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem make their way through the Israeli-controlled Qalandiya checkpoint in the occupied West Bank during the last Friday of Ramadan on May 30, 2019.


Oren Ziv, Activestills

Back to closure. Jerusalem used to be the hub of activity between Bethlehem and Ramallah. So you could never really talk about Jerusalem—in terms of Palestinian life—as separate from the rest of Palestine, of the West Bank, and of Israel. So depending on whatever you decided to call the land, Jerusalem is not just a place, it was also a hub of economic activity, of political activity, and of social activity.

What began to happen with the Oslo Accords, and later with the building of the [Separation] Wall, was that Jerusalem was gradually cut off from Ramallah and Bethlehem. And, of course, Hebron. This geographic divide was done in order to prevent the movement of people from the West Bank—and East Jerusalem is part of the West Bank—into Jerusalem. And in many ways also to try and prevent the movement of Jerusalemites into the West Bank, which never did succeed. So closure means . . . to make things difficult for people to move and come into Jerusalem from the West Bank. That’s what closure is.

And closure is a few things. It’s a military rule—so we need to understand something really basic that it’s hard to get our heads around: One is, the West Bank is under constant closure. It is a closed military zone, all of it, legally. So what people have is a permit to enter, which is an exception to the rule, which is that the territories are closed. And I think people now after Covid and the mobility restrictions can imagine much more what Palestinian life might be. But you can imagine lockdown that is a permanent lockdown in which people have permits to move. So it’s like essential workers had permits to move—the people who have a permit to work or to go pray or to go do commerce or for humanitarian reasons, which means going to the doctor, and other things like that—they are the exception; the rule is that nobody moves. It’s like a constant permanent lockdown.

And the closure is facilitated by obstacles, so physical barriers—the wall, checkpoints, fences, mounds that close up villages, all that—soldiers standing, big checkpoints that are built up. It will sometimes be fly[ing] checkpoints that are in the middle of the road.

Backgrounder Jerusalem: A Closed City

Closure, a “temporary” measure introduced in 1991, is the system that controls Palestinians’ movement and blocks millions from accessing Jerusalem.

Israeli border police stop Palestinian drivers at a flying checkpoint in the al-Tur neighborhood of East Jerusalem, 2016

Israeli border police stop Palestinian drivers at a flying checkpoint in the al-Tur neighborhood of East Jerusalem, December 29, 2016.



The biggest effect of closure is actually not the sealing and walling and the checkpoints; it is actually what happens to you if you do enter without a permit. And the fact that if you enter illegally, you can face detention, imprisonment; you can be taken to a military court, you can spend up to four months in a military court. There’s a huge deterrent effect that is more about the legal consequences and imprisonment that can happen if you enter illegally.

So that’s closure. It’s a legal technological military structure that basically means that the West Bank, as it has been called many times, is an open prison.

JS: To clarify, when you say the West Bank, do you mean also the Jews in the settlements living in the West Bank? What about them? Are they affected by closure?

YB: No. Closure is a legal apparatus that is in effect only on the subjects of the military commander. So the occupied territories—they’re not a country. They’re governed by—they’re the army’s country. And actually, when you look on Palestinian ID cards—Israeli ID cards have the symbol of Israel, and they say “State of Israel.” ID cards that are given to Palestinians, the green ones, say “Israel Defense Forces” (IDF); it is the state of the military. And once we get our heads around that, then it’s easier to understand: It is a closed military zone, all of it, and then whoever is allowed to move out of it. And it only pertains to Palestinians, because Jews are exempt. Why are they exempt? If you’re a citizen of Israel, you are exempt, you’re no longer under the military commander. The space where you live is exempt from that military rule and becomes Israel from a legal point of view.

Very strange, it’s called the “enclaves law”; it doesn't exist in any other [country]. It’s like a legal construction that is Israeli-made. It’s an exception to international law that no one accepts except Israel and the previous US [Trump] government. But what it means is that settlements that are considered illegal are actually part of Israel, while anything that is not a settlement is a closed military zone.

“Closure is a legal apparatus that is in effect only on the subjects of the military commander.”

Yael Berda

“Closure only pertains to Palestinians, because Jews are exempt.”

Yael Berda

JS: Thanks for clarifying that. So what is the permit system? And how does it facilitate closure?

YB: It’s the opposite: Closures facilitate the permit system. You couldn’t have a permit system without closure. What closure means is that people can’t leave [the territories] without an actual permit. Now, this situation is very new. People seem to think that it always was like that, and they’re like, “Oh sure, Israel doesn’t let the Palestinians in [to Israel].” But this is a new situation. Actually, after 1967, when Israel occupied the territories of the West Bank and Gaza, there was a decision to have an open-border policy, which actually meant that Palestinians could go into Israel without a permit. They had a general permit. It still was a closed military zone the whole time. But there was a general permit that said, you can go into Israel, but you have to go back and sleep in the West Bank. So people weren’t allowed to sleep in Israel. From one o’clock in the morning to five o’clock in the morning, they had to go back to the West Bank, but in the whole rest of the time, they could go in.

This didn’t mean that people had the right of free movement. It was a kind of a privilege or whatever that was part of a policy that said, it’s better for us to let free movement; it’s good for the economy, and it’s a better way to deal with things.

In 1991, that general permit was annulled, and instead of it, there was a system that required each person, each individual person, to get a permit from the military commander. But that didn’t really work, because there was no real way to implement it.

“What closure means is that people can’t leave [the territories] without an actual permit.”

Yael Berda

Actually, the Oslo Accords is what created the basis for the permit regime. So basically, without the Oslo Accords there wouldn’t be a permit regime. And that’s a very interesting outcome. And actually, it makes a lot of sense that the permit regime has been directly supported by people who support the two-state solution. Because they are pro-separation, right? They want there to be a Palestinian state and an Israeli state, and that was part of the deal.

So there’s gonna be a separation of territory, and there’s gonna be a border. And then people are gonna need to cross the border with a permit. And that makes sense, right? If you’re thinking of it as an international border, it can make sense. Except—it’s not an international border; there is no state.

And what happened was that imagination of the border created this structure that created complete control over Palestinian life that remained dependent, not just economically, but really remember, they remain dependent on entering the rest of the territory because of familial ties, because of political relations, because of social relations. So people tend to think it’s just an economic issue, but it’s not. It’s because there never really was a separation between Palestinians and Palestinians. That separation was enabled by the Oslo Accords.

Palestinians seeking to pass through Checkpoint 300 between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, 2012

Palestinians seeking to pass through Checkpoint 300, a large military checkpoint that is the only allowed way for Palestinians to move between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, on August 17, 2012



It’s usually something that people don’t talk about much. Because the supporters of peace, and the supporters of the two-state solution, the supporters of Palestinian sovereignty, also supported the permit regime. And so one of the interesting and important things about this is to realize the danger of that paradigm of separation and how dangerous it can become. Because, on the one hand, it’s saying, “Oh, we want to give rights and self-determination.” But, on the other hand, it’s creating this total control on mobility. And this border that doesn’t make any sense for anyone.

So back to Jerusalem and the permit regime. What happened was—I'll give one example, about teachers. For years, the education system in East Jerusalem was entirely dependent on teachers from the West Bank—for many reasons, but one of the reasons is because a lot of the education that was provided by UNRWA and also by the Palestinian intellectuals who were in the West Bank, who train teachers—so much of this work was done in the West Bank, sometimes even in refugee camps, where the best teachers came out of. Things that you don’t expect come because of a certain possibility of resources. And then some teachers from the West Bank were coming in to teach the students of East Jerusalem.

Once there was closure, and they couldn’t enter, this basically liquidated most of the teaching cohort that needed to teach the students, the high schoolers of East Jerusalem. And the situation really deteriorated because of that. Because so many teachers just couldn’t get to work. At some point, I don’t remember, I think it’s 1996, there were 76 days of closure or so. And so imagine teachers not being able to get to the schools to teach the kids, and there’s nothing you can do.

That’s the thing, there is no “essential worker,” because it’s all about security, and nobody cares about civilian needs. I mean, you can yell at the top of your lungs that education or health or a lot of other things are essential. But there’s nobody to talk to [about] humanitarian cases, somebody that’s about to die. So the effect on Jerusalem was huge, and it was about its dismemberment—from Bethlehem, from Hebron, and from Ramallah.

“So the effect on Jerusalem was huge, and it was about its dismemberment—from Bethlehem, from Hebron, and from Ramallah.”

Yael Berda

JS: You raise an interesting point about the separation regime, you know, so-called the separation between Palestinians and Jews, but actually, it was also implementing separation between Palestinians and Palestinians.

YB: Well, when you look at the Separation Wall, you ask, who does it separate whom from? And when you look at the people who are on each side of that wall, who are you going to see? You know, in the north, you’re gonna see the Palestinians of 1948 and the Palestinians of the West Bank. Within East Jerusalem, you’re separating between al-Ram and the rest of Jerusalem. The separation was not between Jews and Palestinians.

And also, when you look at it, there can’t be that separation. And that’s, in a way, for me, that discovery—researching the permit regime made me understand how inseparable and unseparable the territory is. The way the separation literally tore the social fabric, and especially in Jerusalem. Imagine, if so many of the people who were servicing, who were promoting, who were changing, who were living, who were coming to the Hakawati theater, you know—anything—we tend to not think of that, because this idea, you know, that fabric of life—we don’t know what that means. What that means is that people are stopped from living their lives, and that means a city crumbles, networks crumble, businesses crumble, and people find other ways and other means to relocate to change their lives, because people need to survive.

But what gets destroyed is the fabric of the city. And I think Jerusalem was hit hardest from it.

In al-Ram, Palestinians climb over the Separation Wall to reach Jerusalem

In al-Ram, near the Qalandiya checkpoint between the West Bank city of Ramallah and Jerusalem, Palestinians climb over the Separation Wall to reach Jerusalem in order to attend the Friday prayer at al-Aqsa Mosque on the second Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, June 26, 2015.


Oren Ziv, Activestills

And in a very strange way, [Palestinian] Jerusalemites do have more freedom of movement than any other [Palestinian] West Banker. Because Jerusalem was annexed by Israel in 1980, they all received ID cards, so they’re residents of Jerusalem. They are not citizens. But they do have freedom of movement, so they can move throughout Israel. They can also move in and out of the West Bank fairly easily. And that’s a very interesting kind of inversion. So, on the one hand, they’re the only Palestinians who retain that much freedom of movement. I think they even have more freedom of movement than ’48 Palestinians, who go less into the West Bank. But their fabric of life has been absolutely destroyed by the permit regime.

“The separation literally tore the social fabric, and especially in Jerusalem.”

Yael Berda

JS: Can you tell us briefly what is involved in applying for a permit, who has to approve it, and how many types of entry permits there are?

YB: There are many types of entry permits. The largest number are labor, so work permits. There’s a shift, you know, it could go up to 100,000 people or down to 30,000; it changes and shifts all the time.

JS: But what do you mean by “it”? Is there a quota?

YB: Yes, the quotas for work permits change according to needs; they change according to political events; it becomes a very kind of contentious arena between—you know, part of the political economy of the territories is how many workers will Israel allow in, and in which sector? For instance, there’s one sector that’s absolutely booming: doctors and medical workers from the West Bank. During the [coronavirus] pandemic, there has been a huge increase in permits for those types of workers, because they’re so needed desperately.

So we see shifts that are constant, but there are many different kinds of permits. There’s business permits and those are pretty coveted permits, because they allow you a lot of freedom of movement. There’s permits for humanitarian reasons, which are medical.

That’s what the permit regime does. It’s designed to cut off, quarantine, separate—not only the West Bank from Israel, but also within the West Bank. So there’s this play on where you can go, and who can go from where, and it also has to do with different political changes. The biggest political change that we saw was with Gaza. So that’s a very distinct political change, right? When you have one area that is under siege and total closure, and the West Bank, which is under a kind of shifting closure—but, when you think about it, Gaza is always there as a reminder of what can be.

“Gaza is always there as a reminder of what can be.”

Yael Berda

JS: Who controls all these decisions? Who controls setting the quota? Who controls who gets in? Who gets out? In the last analysis, who controls it?

YB: Well, that’s the thing. You can’t just say, “Oh, it’s the Defense Ministry.” There’s a huge bureaucracy. It’s made up out of departments and organizations and different decision makers. It’s really an array of organizations. So there’s also not a policy called “the permit regime.” It’s not that

I’ll try and explain it briefly. For instance, the issues of quotas, that’s going to be like the Ministry of Economy, with the people from military, civil administration, and the people that are in the secret service, and different parts of the military. Sometimes, for instance, it can involve the Ministry of Housing, because many of the workers are construction workers. And if the Ministry of Housing really wants to make sure that certain things are built, then they’ll be in on trying to shift those quotas.

So one of the most interesting things about what happened during Covid was during the first closure. Like I mentioned, historically, Palestinians from the West Bank have never been allowed to sleep in Israel; they have to go home to sleep. Now, what happened during the first corona closure was that the union of builders and the industrialists came to the government and said, “We absolutely need Palestinian workers to remain in Israel. Because if not, the economy’s gonna collapse.” And they managed to convince the security apparatus—it was more of a political move—that Palestinians could be able to sleep, and 40,000 Palestinians slept in Israel for two months. The economic concerns were stronger than the security concerns. And it’s actually the first time that has happened.

We are seeing those kinds of shifts, which are interesting. And I don’t know what it actually means yet. But what it does mean is that within this system, there are strong economic forces; there are strong security forces—none of them are looking at the well-being of Palestinians. But there are these different forces at work around the permit regime. And it’s completely out of control of Palestinian hands, that’s something that’s very, very important to understand. Palestinians do not decide on permits, they do not, and they cannot. What is done is sometimes when there are negotiations or things like that, so there’s kind of like a show of good faith or something. And so they’ll open the gates. That’s one of the things that happened with the new [Israeli] government, so 10,000 workers from Gaza were allowed to come in [to Israel]. And this is after 15 years of siege. So that was like a huge deal. In terms of what people need, it’s nothing, but that was like a show of good faith.

So it’s hard to talk about absolute power, because there’s never absolute power, but it is, in a sense, really a prerogative of the different Israeli departments and the kind of negotiation between the Israeli departments within themselves on the different interests.

“There’s a huge bureaucracy.”

Yael Berda

“It’s completely out of control of Palestinian hands, that’s something that’s very, very important to understand.”

Yael Berda

JS: You said the Palestinians have no control over it, which is a given, but does anybody in Israel have control over it? Is it this sort of huge, massive thing now that nobody knows? Does anybody really have control over the whole thing?

YB: No, nobody has control over the whole thing. Even more than that, I think there’s a big portion of the system that is very well aware that it doesn’t actually work. Because you know, the wall doesn’t really seal; you can come in. There’s also many places in which the military and border police know that workers are coming in, and they allow them to come in for various reasons, which it’s hard to know what they are. But there’s definitely like the points. So if I were to take you, I could take you around in one day and show you all the places in which people can get in. Not that I would do that, but it’s not a problem.

There’s also a whole system in which workers need to pay. They’re paying NIS 2,500 shekels per month to be allowed to work.

JS: They’re paying whom? Their employers?

YB: They’re paying middlemen who helped them get the permits in the first place. But it’s not just to get the permits; it’s to keep it.

JS: So it’s a whole huge industry.

YB: It’s a huge industry that is actually finally being investigated and looked into. But one of the strange things about it is—the justification of the current regime is security, right? But when there’s corruption, and there’s a breach of the security, people are sentenced to very, very low sentences. So if it was a security breach, you’d expect—OK, these are traitors, right? It’s treason. But no, it’s not, it’s not considered like that at all. It’s considered really minor.

And so all of this is telling us that the permit regime is there as a system of control and not as a system of security. But even as a system of control, the question is, who controls it? And what are they doing with that control? And they are questions that are very hard to answer. I mean, you can have the simple answer, which is, “Oh, it’s to control and for the sake of control, and that’s the point of it.” Um, then why go through, you know, all of what’s necessary for it? It’s true that the precariousness, uncertainties, the difficulties that it presents—what it does is that it inundates people’s lives. I mean, it really does.

So yes, so the whole issue of how the bureaucracy inundates your life, it also prevents you from doing other things, like political organizing, for instance.

JS: Are you willing to share stories of trying to represent clients who are denied an entry permit for no apparent reason?

YB: So he just can’t get a permit, and doesn’t know why?

JS: Right.

YB: Well, usually it’s gonna be for one of those reasons. The reason you can’t get a permit is because you’re either considered a security threat by the secret service or by the police. But by the police, it can also be because you haven’t paid certain bills or things like that, or you even haven’t paid parking tickets. So people are very afraid not to pay parking tickets, because then it can prevent you from getting all kinds of things that you need.

JS: Let’s just revisit that for a second. If you have an unpaid parking ticket, you can be denied an entry permit to go to the doctor?

YB: Well, no, it’s not as simple as that. You have traffic tickets, and you’re from the West Bank. You might even be married to a Jerusalemite and so you really need to be able to go and come. And you might have a work permit, or you might even have a family unification permit. But you’re not a resident yet. And then the fact that you have traffic tickets can mean that you can be blacklisted by the police, to pressure you to pay.

JS: What does it mean to be blacklisted by the police? What does “blacklisted” mean in this context?

YB: There’s two kinds. We’re really gonna move into blacklisting, because you really can’t get away from it. There are two kinds of blacklisting, at least to my knowledge. There might be more, but this is what I know. One is by the general secret service, the Shabak. So you’re blacklisted for security reasons, and we can go into that in a minute, what that looks like. Or you’re blacklisted by the police as a police security threat. And that was supposed to be mostly for criminal stuff. But it just ballooned into a giant thing in which, if you have things that you owe to the police, and it can be a parking ticket, it can be, I parked on the sidewalk.

And then if you owe that, you can be denied entry [to Israel] because of that. Or even if you owe money to an Israeli, and then they open a file against you, and you need to pay back money, and you haven’t done that. And they go through the court system, and then it can also be through that. So in order to pressure people to pay their debts, then people are denied entry. So it becomes a very, very insidious thing.

JS: Now, are people informed when they are blacklisted? Let’s just talk about the mechanics of it first. So “blacklisted” would be just an entry in the computer, right? How does it actually technically happen? And is there any notification to the person who’s been blacklisted?

YB: No, no, no, no, no. It’s not only that there’s no notification. When I used to ask the Legal Advisor of Judea and Samaria, “How can we know about this?” they would say, “Oh, we’re not interested, we don’t have to give you the information if you’re denied or not, we actually give the information to the Israeli employers, if they’re asking for it, because this is just our internal information system.” So you have no right to know your status.

JS: And so how do you discover it? What happens?

YB: Well, you discover it when you want something. So there’s no way that you know. You’ll discover it when you need to get your next permit. Which might be in three months or six months; if it’s family unification, it might be a year—so you’re only going to know when you need to get it.

JS: So are they going to tell you “denied”? Are they going to tell you you are denied because you’re blacklisted? Or are they just gonna say “denied?”

YB: No, they’re gonna say you’re mamnu‘ amni or mamnu‘ shurta. So mamnu‘ amni [forbidden for security reasons] would mean it’s the Shabak, and mamnu‘ shurta [forbidden for police reasons] would mean it’s the police.

JS: Let’s say you want to go and challenge it or appeal it.

YB: You can’t. I mean, you need to get a lawyer to send some sort of appeal to the Legal Advisor of Judea and Samaria. And, you know, sometimes that works, but most of the time, it doesn’t. A lot of times, the reason people are blacklisted is that they’re being recruited to be informers. You are blacklisted, and then you’re offered a deal. You know, “You report on such and such, and we will unblacklist with you.” That is a very strong pressure point, but also a lot of people refuse. So, that’s a major way to recruit informants. It’s a major way to recruit informants of every kind, and it’s not like some big informant. It could be like, you know, “Tell me when somebody leaves the house.”

It’s absolutely insidious. It’s absolutely crazy.

Backgrounder Banned from Entry

How hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are banned from ever entering Jerusalem

“A lot of times, the reason people are blacklisted is that they’re being recruited to be informers.”

Yael Berda

YB: And when you become more accustomed to it—these stories, you just hear them over and over and over again, and people are telling you, “But I’ve done nothing.”

What happens is that people start looking for the things that they’ve done wrong. I almost felt like I was a confession box, at some point, when people would tell me all the things that they’ve done. And I’d say, you know, we can just write this. So we would appeal to the Supreme Court—at the time, it was the Supreme Court, now, it’s the administrative courts, which makes it harder. But at the time, you would just appeal to the Supreme Court, because there was nowhere else to go. And we would petition and say, “My client is denied entry, they don’t know anything about what’s going on.” And usually, either before the hearing, we would manage to get some sort of deal with the state attorneys. Or if the hearing went on in court, we usually lost, and the reason was that it’s always a one-sided hearing. Meaning the person and their lawyer can’t be in the hearing. The only people who are in the hearing are the state attorneys and the secret service people, who are showing the court whatever they want. So you lose. It kind of makes sense, right? How are you going to win if you can’t? challenge anything, right? And if you don’t agree to have the court view [the evidence] with only the state lawyers there, and without your attorney there, then your case is going to be denied.

So there’s really no way out of it. I mean, the only way that I found useful was a kind of bureaucratic negotiation. We petitioned the court and then begin to negotiate, just by creating a lot of work or, or questioning a lot of the practices and also, and also trying to expose those practices, and so they wanted less and less of these cases. And in that sense, that was helpful, I think, to get some people off the hook.

JS: So there’s no annual audit of everybody who’s blacklisted, and someone says, “Oh, this person shouldn’t be blacklisted anymore.” So once you’re blacklisted, are you just blacklisted forever? Is there any way you can end it?

YB: I interviewed Ilan Paz, the head of the civil administration for a while, and he said, “It’s a one-way street.” You get on this list, and you never know if you’re gonna come out, but you might come out. And you might, because a lot of things are arbitrary. So I don’t know. There is no review. And even if there was an alleged review, there’s nobody that’s gonna review the review. Because the secret service has so much power in this system. So there’s no one to be able to check what’s being done on this administrative level.

JS: And how many Palestinians are blacklisted? Is there some estimate of how many?

YB: My research was done quite a while ago. In the early 2000s, there were a quarter of a million Palestinians who were denied entry. There’s no reason to believe there’s fewer now. What it means is that you have [at least] a quarter of a million Palestinians who are denied entry, and most of them are working age.

So it’s a generation that is blacklisted. It’s a generation that is blacklisted, and actually, if you read about life in the West Bank, freedom of movement is possibly the biggest issue. When you ask people, “What do you want?” they say, “I want to take my car and go somewhere—without making a plan, without deciding where I’m going to go, and be free.” That’s what people want. Because imagine what it means. I mean, if you’re a young person, and especially if you’re a young male, you can’t go anywhere. How can you go anywhere? Part of this profiling is also about age, and also about the village that you’re from. So there’s certain villages that are considered hostile, and no one gets a permit there to go anywhere.

Graphic Banned from Entry: How Israel Blacklists Half a Million PA ID Holders, Blocking Them from Entering Jerusalem

The black hole of blacklisting: How Palestinians with PA IDs get wholly banned from Jerusalem with one click on the keyboard

“[At least] a quarter of a million Palestinians . . . are denied entry, and most of them are working age. So it’s a generation that is blacklisted.”

Yael Berda

JS: All of which is a way to put pressure on the village elders to suppress any kind of political activity so that the whole village isn’t going to—

YB: It’s not really a way to do that, because everyone knows that it doesn’t really work. So there’s a lot of questions about it. What we can say is, definitely I think the permit regime has put a lot of pressure on militants to kind of justify what they’re doing. And in that sense, you know, that might be what it’s trying to achieve. But there’s no question that just the power of the current regime to stifle most any kind of political organization, and so much of political organization of Palestinians has to do with the possibility to unify people from different areas. You know, it’s a lot about that.

And so what’s so interesting is, for instance, in the events in May 2021, that was one of the major points where the Jerusalemites were not separate. And they made sure that everyone knew that—that they were not separate from the people in the West Bank and Gaza. And in that sense, you could say, okay, you’ve had years and years of this separation regime, but it obviously hasn’t worked. So why is it still going on? I mean, there’s also the efficiency issue. You know: Is this even achieving anything? It’s supposed to achieve something, but is it?

So I think there are a lot of questions. But people don’t even know how to say: First you need to dismantle the permit regime; that’s the first thing that you need to do. But nobody really understands enough about it. So you know, people talk about checkpoints, but they don’t really know what’s behind it. And so, I think that’s one of the harder issues.

JS: This conversation has been really illuminating about trying to get our heads wrapped around some of the complexities of this issue. Is there anything else that you think is important to mention before we wrap up?

YB: I think the isolation of Jerusalemites. So what happens when your community shrinks? It becomes much smaller, more local—it kind of loses its national relationship. And, you know, that’s more of an identity issue. But you can see actually changes in a lot of directions.

JS: This has been extremely enlightening and fascinating. Thank you for speaking with Jerusalem Story.

YB: Thank you so much.