A Bit of Background
Navigating Closure as an “Illegal” in My Own City
An accident of fate left a Jerusalemite with the “wrong ID,” rendering her, in the eyes of the state, an “illegal” in her own home. When at long last she had a chance to expand her horizons with a long-dreamed trip to Gaza, she fulfilled all the Israeli military requirements to move but instead found herself shut out of her own city with nowhere to turn. She tells the story in her own words.
I am a 35-year-old Palestinian Jerusalemite woman. I was born and raised in a Jerusalem-area village located 8 kilometers north of the Old City of Jerusalem. My story happened recently, but to contextualize it, I need to share a bit of historical background first.
When Israel occupied the West Bank, including Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in 1967, the state decided to unilaterally expand the boundaries of the city far beyond its traditional limits. These new imposed municipal boundaries extended to my village but only to part of it, such that my village was arbitrarily divided in two. My family house, where I was born and raised, falls in that part of my village that Israel occupied in 1967, then de facto annexed by extending its law, jurisdiction, and administration to this village and an area far larger than the entire city itself, in contravention of international law. Most of my village’s land was located within the Israeli-imposed boundaries.
Pretty much right away after occupying the city, Israel conducted a census in the newly occupied areas, including my village. Villagers who were physically present in their homes during the census were given the status of permanent resident, which usually is given to foreigners. They had no say over this status and no choice in the matter. People with this status were required to obtain a Blue (Israeli) ID and carry it at all times. This part of my village thus became part of Israel, albeit unwillingly and in violation of international law.
The rest of my village was “declared” to be part of the occupied West Bank, and Israel appointed a military governor to rule over the West Bank. Today, people who were physically present in this part of the village during that 1967 census hold a Palestinian Authority Identification Card (Green ID). They are not allowed to enter the “other” part of their village. They are not allowed to use or benefit from their properties located in the “other” part of their village.
Both of my parents are from the same village, yet they weren’t counted in the same part during that fateful census. So, one of my parents holds a “Blue (Israeli) ID,” and the other holds a “Green (Palestinian Authority) ID.” Due to the complex situation in Jerusalem, the state imposed upon me a Green ID, because their regulations required that my status should derive from my parent who holds a Palestinian Authority ID.
Life as an “Illegal” in My Own Home
My story starts here. I live in Israeli municipal Jerusalem and hold a Green ID. According to Israeli law, because I have a Palestinian Authority ID but live in my family house that falls inside the Israeli municipal boundary, I am “illegally” living in my house in which generations of my family have lived since the early 1950s. I am illegal unless I manage to obtain a “stay permit” to live in the house.
I live under continuous threat of getting arrested and “deported” to the West Bank and of being criminally indicted.
Because this is my life, I have somehow gotten used to it. As you (the reader) may know, Israeli police maintain a heavy presence in Jerusalem. Random inspections and frisking, including identification checks, are part of the Palestinian Jerusalemites’ daily routine.
I’ve learned how to act around Israeli police. I have not only learned Hebrew, but have also developed an “attitude” that maybe gives the Israeli police the impression that I am “not Palestinian” and will spare me their anti-Palestinian profiling through frequent identification checks.
In addition to the language and “attitude,” I use Israeli public transportation. This is because the Palestinian buses are stopped regularly by “flying checkpoints,” and all the passengers are required to prove that their presence in Jerusalem is “legal.” I usually walk at least 15 minutes to be able to use Israeli public transportation. When I am traveling between Palestinian neighborhoods where Israeli public transportation does not operate, I walk for approximately 30 minutes.
For most of my life, I did not leave Jerusalem. I have never visited most of the villages in the next-door West Bank. I always felt that I lived in a prison. As part of my “attitude,” I consider these walks to catch the bus part of a healthy lifestyle, and I view myself as “lucky” to have the opportunity to go to the beach and visit historical Palestinian cities such as Haifa, Jaffa, and Acre. It is ironic, also, that I see my visits to, and friends in, the occupied Golan Heights as being “lucky” to have relationships with Syrians and enjoy their delicious food.
In 2018, I managed to obtain and sustain a “stay permit,” and my life became easier. I still was not allowed to drive in Jerusalem or anywhere in Israel, nor to have any civil or social or health benefits or rights in my city. I started going to the West Bank, and I was able to see my friends there and participate in Palestinian cultural and social events. Again, I was “lucky,” because my permit gave me the “right” to cross most of the Israeli military checkpoints in a car and not on foot. It is maybe important to say that the rights associated with the “stay permit” are decided on a case-by-case basis. For example, some permit “holders” are arbitrarily required to pass certain checkpoints (of which there are many), on foot.
My “Luck” vs. the Global Pandemic
I thought that 2020 was my “lucky” year, not only because I was finally able to move around “legally,” but also because I was “granted” another permit to enter the occupied Gaza Strip, something that is near impossible to obtain. I was so happy that I got this permit after trying for over seven years and asking international human rights organizations (for whom I worked) to apply on my behalf. I finally received an email from the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT)1 informing me that my permit was approved and ready to be picked up from the COGAT office in Ramallah on March 12, 2020.
I woke up very early that day with a gigantic smile on my face. I left Jerusalem, exited the checkpoint, and was in front of the COGAT office in Ramallah at 9:00 a.m. To my dismay, I found the offices closed and a paper announcement taped to the door, fluttering in the wind, which read, “All the offices are closed for health reasons.” I tried going to other COGAT offices in Ramallah for two days in a row, hoping that my “luck” was still valid, and I would be able to visit Gaza. After spending at least 20 hours leaping from one place to another, I decided to go home and try later on Sunday. I went to the Qalandiya military checkpoint thinking I would pass through and go home, but my access was denied, and the soldier told me that all entry permits (including my “stay permit”) had been revoked on March 12, 2020, at 2:00 p.m. Jerusalem time, six hours after I left my house and set out for the West Bank, Israel announced a closure on Jerusalem for health reasons at this time, without informing the public (as usual).
I tried to pass the checkpoint—the only legal way for me to reenter my city2—four days in a row. The last time, the soldier threatened me that if I tried to cross the checkpoint one more time, he would arrest me and charge me with “wasting the authorities’ time.” I laughed and comforted myself by telling myself over and over again that during these times, many people around the world can’t go home. This time, it was not only me. I was stuck in Ramallah after the lockdown was announced in the West Bank and Israel.
My “luck” and “attitude” did not work this time. I use “luck” as a sarcastic metaphor. Luck has nothing to do with the prison in which I live.
Because my identity will remain anonymous, I will tell you the truth: I am out of breath. I am tired. And I am thinking of leaving my beloved city, Jerusalem. I will try to find “luck” elsewhere in this world. Wish me luck.
Palestinians holding Palestinian Authority (Green) IDs are only allowed to enter Jerusalem, and the country generally, with an entry permit. The same holds true for the Gaza Strip, a nearby Palestinian area that has been under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade (land, air, and sea) since 2007. The application process for the entry permit is lengthy and unpredictable. The Israeli Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories [i.e., in the occupied West Bank and Gaza] (COGAT) has final authority to decide on all permit applications, although the bureaucratic processing is handled by the Palestinian Authority. The COGAT, a unit of the Israeli Ministry of Defense, has authority over the area.
As a holder of a Palestinian Authority ID, under military regulations, I am not allowed to enter Jerusalem by car or drive there. Therefore, Qalandiya is the only checkpoint I am allowed to use to enter my city because it provides for pedestrian crossings.