East Jerusalem’s identity crisis

In the US, you need a passport to travel abroad and a driver’s license to cash a check. In Israel, you need an ID card just to cross the street.

ID 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
ID 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
In the United States, you need a passport to travel abroad and a driver’s license to cash a check. In Israel, you need an ID card just to cross the street. “The law is that everyone must have an ID card,” says police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld. “Incidents can take place, whether it’s a traffic accident or if someone needs to be questioned for security purposes, and we need to have their details.”
To make matters more complicated, there are different ID cards. Israeli citizens – Jewish and Arab – carry ID cards in a blue plastic folder. Inside, the card lists the bearer’s nationality as “Israeli.” Some 20 percent of Israel’s citizens are Arab, and legally they are entitled to full rights, including voting rights.
The current Knesset has 16 Arab members out of a total of 120 parliamentarians. Many Arab citizens of Israel, however, say they feel discriminated against and that municipal budgets for Arab towns in Israel are lower than those of Jewish towns. The Higher Arab Monitoring Committee recently released a report charging that there is a shortage of 6,100 classrooms and 4,000 teachers for this school year in the Arab sector.
Palestinians who live in the West Bank carry their ID cards in a bright green folder. Palestinians who want to enter Israel need both the ID card and a special army-issued permit. Those permits can sometimes be easy to obtain. For example, Israel allowed more than 300,000 Palestinians to enter Israel during the recent holiday that ended Ramadan. Once inside Israel, many made their way to the beaches along the Mediterranean coast – a treat for landlocked Palestinians.
Where the ID cards get more confusing is when it comes to Jerusalem. The latest figures show that Jerusalem is home to 508,000 Jews and 293,000 Palestinians, making a total population of 801,000. The majority of Jews who live in Jerusalem are Israeli citizens, as Israel offers automatic citizenship to anyone with one Jewish grandparent. Some Palestinians, like Moufid Batarseh, a 57-year-old Palestinian taxi driver, are Israeli citizens as well.
“About 10 years ago I decided to become an Israeli citizen,” he tells The Media Line while traveling on the light rail that traverses both Arab and Jewish neighborhoods in the city. “I used to travel to Europe, and it was just easier to have an Israeli passport.”
In 1967, when Israel annexed east Jerusalem, it offered Palestinians citizenship. Most declined, saying that east Jerusalem must eventually be the capital of the Palestinian state.
They insist that accepting Israeli citizenship is equivalent to accepting Israeli control over Jerusalem. Even today, only about 5 percent of east Jerusalem Arabs have Israeli citizenship.
“Israel has had a policy of restricting the number of Palestinians in Jerusalem to maintain the demographic balance,” says Sarit Michaeli, the spokeswoman for the Israeli human rights group B’tselem. “If they leave Jerusalem for seven years, Israel can take away their residency permit, and that has been done in hundreds of cases.”
Palestinians agree that holding on to Jerusalem residency is important for their freedom of movement. It also gives them access to Israeli social security and health care, widely considered one of the best systems in the world.
Most Palestinians in east Jerusalem have ID cards that look almost exactly like those of Jewish citizens. The main difference is that they are permanent residents, not citizens. On the ID card, the line that says “nationality” is blank.
Hiba Sanduqa, 27, a social worker who has lived with her Jordanian husband in Dubai for the past three years, says that must change.
“I have a blue ID card, but my husband, who is Jordanian, doesn’t have one, so he can’t come here very easily,” she told The Media Line at the Kalandiya checkpoint between Jerusalem and the West Bank. “Look at my ID card. My nationality is blank. I am a Palestinian. Why don’t they write that on my ID card?” Sanduqa has come to visit her family in Jerusalem and is on her way to other relatives in Nablus.
Her trip brings up one of the ironies of the current situation. The West Bank is divided into three areas – A, B, and C. Area A, which includes about 18% of the land of the West Bank but 55% of the Arab population, includes cities like Ramallah, Nablus and Bethlehem, and is under sole Palestinian control – administrative and security. Area B, about 21% of the West Bank, is under joint Israeli and Palestinian control. And Area C, about 61% of the land, including all of the Jewish communities on post-1967 land, is under complete Israeli control.
Arab Jerusalem residents like Sanduqa can enter all three parts of the West Bank. Jewish citizens of Israel can enter only Areas B and C. In fact, at the entrance to Palestinian cities such as Ramallah, there are large signs saying “It is forbidden for Israeli citizens to enter.”
Israeli officials say it is not safe for Israelis to enter areas that are under sole Palestinian control. In 2000, two Israeli soldiers who mistakenly entered Ramallah were caught and “lynched.”
In dozens of cases since then, Palestinian security officers have stopped Jewish Israelis who either made a wrong turn into Ramallah or went to visit and turned them over to Israeli police.
At the same time, many Israelis do visit Bethlehem and Jericho, usually very quiet areas.
Sanduqa’s sister Rafiqa is finishing her degree in pharmacy in Jordan. “I have the blue ID, and I can go everywhere, Arab or Jewish,” she told The Media Line. “I am proud to be Palestinian. I am a Palestinian who lives in Jerusalem.”
On Salah a-Din Street in east Jerusalem, Halil Hijazi, 25, spends long hours squeezing oranges, carrots and pomegranates into fresh juice. He opened the business a few months ago and hopes for a better life for his wife and young daughter.
“With the blue ID card, I can go anywhere. This week we took a trip to Acre,” he says. “My problem is not with getting around. It’s that everything is too expensive. I live in a one-bedroom apartment in Jerusalem’s Old City, and between rent and property taxes I can’t even make ends meet.”
High rent and taxes are two things that everyone living in Jerusalem – citizens and residents, Jews and Arabs – can easily agree upon.
For more stories from The Media Line go to www.themedialine.org