The other side of the wall
Palestinian residents of occupied Jerusalem have little to celebrate on this year's Jerusalem Day, writes Ruth Fleishman in Ramallah
Jerusalem Day was celebrated this year, marking 45 years of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. About a third of the city's residents are excluded from the celebrations, speeches and promises that speak of Jerusalem "forever and always and freedom of religion and equality" and other such hollow catchphrases. In addition, and much more importantly, those same residents are not granted their civil rights.
Ever since the creation of the metropolis of Greater Jerusalem, which is the result of an intention to annex as much territory as possible with as few residents as possible, the basic rights of 360,000 Palestinians living in it have not been recognised. The city that had stretched its body like a spring up to the end of its reach, extending to the outskirts of Ramallah, has left the Palestinians who reside within it discriminated against by the present classification given to them.
Their blue identity card doesn't provide them with citizenship, due to the ideology to preserve the Jewish majority, but only permanent residency, which in spite of the title does not give them permanent residence and could be removed through biased legislation or at the whim of the Israeli minister of the interior.
Residency provides freedom of movement and better healthcare than that which Palestinians without blue IDs receive. According to the figures of the non-profit organisation Ir Amim, it appears that a higher percentage of Palestinians pay their municipal taxes than the rest of the city's residents, for fear that they might lose their status and relative rights and as a result get evicted.
The list of discriminations against the non-Jewish residents of the city includes an educational system that does not meet reasonable standards, inadequate and poor infrastructure in neighbourhoods populated by the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, only partial freedom for performing religious rituals, which on numerous occasions have not been granted to them, or that have been limited by age restrictions applying to attendance at places of worship, discriminations in the issuing of construction permits on Palestinian land and the automatic classification of the latter as "green" zones by the planning authorities (another method for preserving Jewish numerical advantage), the disinheritance of property, the demolition of homes, and perhaps most draconian of all the "citizenship law" that under the mantra of security prevents people from living with their partners and their children.
Those Palestinians, women as well as men, who have proven themselves to be "clean" without any room for doubt and who have no "history" and have not been caught throwing stones or protesting, not even in their youth decades ago, are able to make a deal with the exhausting bureaucratic system after much running around at the age of 35 in order that they can (perhaps) receive what is known as "a temporary permit to stay under family reunion," a long name for an evil procedure.
The few lucky ones that meet all the criteria and break down the walls of the bureaucracy, those that have not been turned down by the Israeli Shabak or Ministry of Interior, receive a permit to live in their own homes among their family, though they have no insurance regarding duration. A permit is temporary, and it might expire or be taken away at any time. Its owners must go back and beg every few months in order to renew and revalidate it. Even the number of months between each visit is not fixed. It can change from one person to the next and from one case to another.
Uncertainty, intimidation and the sense of constant persecution are among the tools used by the occupation. They transform the individual into a perpetual captive in the hands of the secret services, his future unknown, since those sitting in back rooms will decide his fate and owe him no explanation.
However, all this is overshadowed by the lives of those Palestinians unfortunate enough to have their homes on the wrong side of the apartheid wall, in other words the residents of the towns and neighbourhoods on the main road leading to Ramallah. The wall has not only infringed on the rights and quality of life of human beings, but it has cut through the urban fabric and sorely damaged urban vitality.
People whose homes face the back of the wall are the victims of the intentionally discriminatory policy of the leaders of Israel and the municipality of Jerusalem. It is important to focus attention on these dark places, because while they are disconnected from the city that is the centre of their lives, residents of them are also disconnected from the attention of the public.
Up until a couple of years ago, it would have taken these people only a few minutes to reach their educational institutions, their work places, clinics and hospitals. However, today, finding themselves against their will imprisoned behind the wall, they can never know when and if they are going to arrive at their destinations.
One woman I know from the neighbourhood of Dahiat al-Barid said she had to wake her children before sunrise so that they could arrive at their school in East Jerusalem on time. Unfortunately for her, the dark side of the wall borders her home, and therefore she and her family are disconnected from their relatives and source of income, a business in the old city.
Freedom of movement is restricted. Though Palestinian vehicles have yellow plates, the same as Jewish citizens, unlike the latter they are forced to go through strict and time-consuming inspections at checkpoints. Only those who are first-degree relatives are allowed to stay in a vehicle when passing a checkpoint (a spouse, parent, or child), and relatives or others not indicated on identity cards are ordered to walk through the pedestrian checkpoint.
Any sick individuals, who have insurance under Israeli law and are taken care of in hospitals located in the west of the city, are forced to go through the tiring procedure known as "back-to-back", which includes gaining authorisation from the permits centre. The residents of these areas, part of the jurisdiction of the municipality of Jerusalem, do not receive fundamental services such as waste collection, and they are forced to deal with the mountains of trash that pile up by lighting bonfires at the side of roads and inside trash containers.
Like Palestinians living in the Qalandiya refugee camp nearby, located between the two villages of Kufer-Akeb and Samir-Ramis where many of the residents have residency cards, Palestinians living in Jerusalem live in a kind of no man's land. They suffer not only from the neglect of their infrastructure, but also from the loss of a sense of security, since neither the Israeli nor the Palestinian police are present to guarantee order.
Those who are there, especially during the night, are Israeli soldiers who invade homes and hunt down women and children. In the middle of all this, between the residents of Jerusalem and the checkpoint, is the refugee camp, with its tens of thousands of residents inside it. This is like a bone in Israel's throat, which it is unwilling to swallow and unable to vomit up.
The writer is a member of the Coalition of Women for Peace and volunteer in Breaking the Silence.