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Precarious Status
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Credit: 

Daoud Kuttab for Jerusalem Story

Blog Post

Four Days in Jerusalem

To retain their residency rights, Jerusalemites who hold permanent residency status like myself are required to spend time in Jerusalem each year irrespective of what they might be doing. So although my job is in Jordan, I make sure to visit Jerusalem once or twice a year.

This summer, our family will be spending time in the US, so I decided to make the usual trip in May, before the summer vacation period begins. For four days, I stayed at my house, which is adjacent to my daughter’s house—technically in Jerusalem, but much closer to Ramallah.

Although I love returning to Jerusalem, I always have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I am proud that Palestinians are resilient; on the other hand, I wonder how long our people will have to suffer this injustice.

The following excerpts were taken from my diary, recorded during the visit.

Day 1: Rosary Sisters’ School, Beit Hanina

On my first day back home, the graduation party of sixth graders at the Rosary Sisters’ School in Beit Hanina was the angry talk of the town. It seems that the nuns had proposed and trained the students on a skit that deals with wars and conflicts around the world. They gave girls the flags of warring countries, dressed some in white and others in black, and began the show in the form of a ballet dance for peace, with girls waving flags from all the world conflicts. However, when a student waltzed on stage carrying the Israeli flag, the parents erupted in anger. Efforts by the nuns to calm the audience and to beg them to wait for the final scene went in vain. The performance was recorded, the videos went viral, and everyone started to comment, laying the blame squarely on the Catholic school.

Some argued that the Israeli flag was paraded to please a member of the Israeli Ministry of Education in attendance; others viewed it as a preliminary step toward adopting the Israeli Bagrut curriculum. The nuns responded with a long explanation that few accepted; a few hours later, a full-fledged apology was issued by the school administration, admitting that it had erred in judgment and had been unable to communicate its message.

Later, a partial apology or explanation by former Patriarch Michele Sabah helped calm the anger somewhat. The Palestinian Ministry of Education issued a strong protest and announced the setting up of an investigative committee to look into the case. The committee is bound to discover that decades of ignoring schools in Jerusalem can’t be resolved by a toothless investigative committee.

While the incident came out of the blue, it seems to have touched a nerve for many parents who are worried about attempts to make Jerusalem more Israeli and less Palestinian.

When a student waltzed on stage carrying the Israeli flag, the parents erupted in anger.

Day 2: From Ramallah to Bethlehem

I went with my daughter Tania and her family to visit my other daughter in Bethlehem.

Tania, a Jerusalemite, lives with her husband and children in Ramallah. They have always had difficulty crossing checkpoints into Jerusalem. She is allowed to cross the checkpoint while driving in her car because, as a permanent resident, she carries a blue Israeli ID card; her husband, who holds a Palestinian Authority (PA) (orange) ID, requires a permit to cross, but even then, he has to get out of the car and undergo a security check (airport style) and then walk a distance to rejoin her and continue the journey in her car (see Checkpoints, Part 1: Severing Jerusalem).

To avoid the checkpoint hassle, we decided to go to Bethlehem the long way, skirting Jerusalem, even though it makes what should be a 30-minute journey at least an hour long. Palestinians who don’t have an Israeli ID are restricted to using the Wadi al-Nar (literally, the Valley of Fire) Road to get to Bethlehem, because Jerusalem has been placed off-limits to most non-Jerusalem Palestinians (see Jerusalem: A Closed City).

We skirted the Qalandiya checkpoint, entered al-‘Izariyya, and then headed down Wadi al-Nar. The area derives its name from the belief that it is the location where, thousands of years ago, humans discovered fire! Wadi al-Nar Road literally hugs the mountain or valley and circles around Jerusalem and at times includes very dangerous and sharp turns. At the beginning of the descent, in the middle of the trip, is the Israeli “container” checkpoint—the name was given because, at one time, there were large containers near the checkpoint.

Traffic all of a sudden came to a complete stop. Twenty minutes later, cars resumed moving, and we passed the checkpoint without being stopped.

As we made sharp turns on the windy road, I noticed that all the streetlights were not working. The area, which has no electricity, was lit by a solar-powered lighting system back in 2011 that was provided by Qatar. But it seems that lack of maintenance and weather conditions have made this lighting system unreliable, leaving a most dangerous road in the dark.

Interactive Map Checkpoints around Jerusalem

An interactive map of the checkpoints around Jerusalem that control Palestinian access to the city

Use the magnifier box in the bottom left-hand corner to view the map full screen. Zoom in to view the localities’ and checkpoints' names. Click on the Legend in the upper right to view and manipulate the various map layers.

The solar-powered lighting system for the Wadi al-Nar Road between al-‘Izariyya outside Jerusalem and Bethlehem is not working.

The solar-powered lighting system for the Wadi al-Nar Road between al-‘Izariyya outside Jerusalem and Bethlehem is not working, leaving a dangerous winding road in the dark.

Credit: 

Daoud Kuttab for Jerusalem Story

After dinner at a nice, newly opened restaurant in Beit Sahur, we paid a visit to my other daughter who lives in a very small house in the Bir Ona neighborhood. Like Kufr ‘Aqab, this tiny area is legally part of Jerusalem, but it is located beyond the Separation Wall and very close to the largely settler-used tunnel connecting Jerusalem to Hebron. The area gets basic services from the Israeli-run Jerusalem municipality, but little more.

We had coffee and ice cream.

Tania’s husband suggested that he return separately by service (shared taxi); he expected that the traffic would be bad because it was Friday night, which is when weddings typically are held. We reluctantly agreed. As it turns out, he miscalculated; he had to wait an hour because the taxi had only one passenger and had to wait for others to arrive, to make the trip worth the expense to the driver; luckily, another taxi had come from Ramallah and was returning anyway and brought him back. By the time he got home, the kids were fast asleep.

Interactive Map The Separation Wall in and around Jerusalem

An interactive map of the Separation Wall in Jerusalem and its environs

Jerusalem has been placed off-limits to most non-Jerusalem Palestinians.

Day 3: Stuck in the Twilight Zone

I woke up early, because I was planning to use public transportation to get to a morning appointment I had at the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem. I stuck my Israeli-issued ID card in my pocket and took a taxi to the Qalandiya checkpoint.

After I got out, I checked for my ID card and couldn’t find it. It seems that when I paid for the taxi, the ID card fell out of my pocket and into the taxi. I had forgotten to take the name of the taxi or the driver. I was stuck: I needed to find my ID or report it as lost.

I went to the Ramallah police station in al-Bira, and they said I needed to go to the police station that serves Jerusalem’s villages and towns. They were no help, and friends said I should go to an Israeli police station.

I got a ride and went to the police station in the nearby settlement of Neve Yacoub, but the officer said I need to go to the Ministry of Interior in Jerusalem.

Day 4: Jerusalem

I got up early again to resolve the problem caused by losing my ID card. Decades of experience at the dreaded Ministry of Interior made me acutely aware that I was in for an unpleasant time.

I got to the ministry in the Wadi al-Joz building and discovered that I had to make an online appointment (a new procedure since my last visit here). I was advised that it would take two weeks for a new ID card to be issued and that my best bet was to leave the country using my US passport.

As I walked away from the ministry offices, I heard someone shouting my name. Economist and researcher Ibrahim Matar wanted to talk as his car was being fixed at the local garage. He had just published a book about Palestinian homes in West Jerusalem that were stolen from their rightful owners. The book is full of pictures and maps and gives names to the many Arab-looking homes that one sees in al-Baq‘a and Talbiyya on the Bethlehem and Hebron roads (see The West Side Story).

Walking up from Wadi al-Joz, I noticed the Dar al-Awlad, the boy’s charitable school that was established in 1948. Seeing the sign reminded me of the book about the ‘Awad family (my cousins) and the ordeal that they went through in April and May 1948, when their father, Elias ‘Awad, was killed in Musrara by a Jewish sniper and their mother, Hoda, had to raise seven young children.

The boys were enrolled in a newly established Dar al-Awlad while the girls went to the nearby Dar al-Tifl, established by Hind al-Husseini.

It felt surreal to talk about many of these issues at a time when we were observing the 75th anniversary of the catastrophe that befell the Palestinian people.

We are now strong enough to write about them.

Case Study Mubarak Awad: Lifelong Experience of Dispossession

A Palestinian American psychologist who was born and raised in Jerusalem had his residency revoked when he advocated nonviolence in Palestine in 1987–88.

The Old City

I couldn’t leave Jerusalem before making a short trip to the Old City. I wanted to see how things were going on in al-Aqsa Mosque and especially what was happening to the Bab al-Rahma; Israeli extremists were known to be eyeing the Muslim prayer hall as a future Jewish synagogue on Haram al-Sharif (or what they call the Temple Mount).

I also went to the Armenian Quarter to see for myself some of the strategic locations that are being sold (actually leased for 99 years) by the Armenian Patriarch to a Jewish developer against the will of the community. I was shocked when I saw the sheer size of the area that might soon become the property of Jewish entrepreneurs hosting Jews from around the world at the expense of the Armenian community and its land.

The Armenian seminary, one of the Armenian properties in the Armenian Quarter in Jerusalem's Old City that is included in the controversial land lease deal, late May 2023

The Armenian Seminary in the Armenian Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem, one of the properties included in the controversial land lease deal, shown at the end of May 2023

Credit: 

Daoud Kuttab for Jerusalem Story

The Cows’ Garden, one of the Armenian properties in the Armenian Quarter in Jerusalem’s Old City that is included in the controversial land lease deal, late May 2023

The Cows’ Garden (currently a parking lot) in the Armenian Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem, one of the properties included in the controversial land lease deal, shown at the end of May 2023

Credit: 

Daoud Kuttab for Jerusalem Story

Before leaving Jerusalem, I made sure to buy a lot of Jerusalem ka‘ek to take back to Jordan with me.

I sealed my four-day visit to Palestine with a selfie.

Journalist Daoud Kuttab takes a selfie near the Damascus Gate

The author takes a selfie near Bab al-Amud.

Credit: 

Daoud Kuttab for Jerusalem Story

Blog Post Ka‘ek al-Quds: What’s the Secret?

Ka‘ek al-Quds is not just a special bread—it is part and parcel of the personality of the Old City of Jerusalem.