Palestinians face struggles that Jews don't notice - opinion

Many Palestinians don't officially belong to any internationally-recognized country, but not for lack of trying.

 PALESTINIANS WORSHIP at Friday prayers, as they protest the demolition of homes by Israeli authorities at the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber earlier this month. (photo credit: JAMAL AWAD/FLASH90)
PALESTINIANS WORSHIP at Friday prayers, as they protest the demolition of homes by Israeli authorities at the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber earlier this month.
(photo credit: JAMAL AWAD/FLASH90)

On Sunday, I led a small group of American and British tourists on a political tour of the Old City of Jerusalem. Periodically, I do these guided tours, trying to broaden the understanding of the complexities of our conflict over the most contested piece of land in the world. As we entered the Damascus Gate at the beginning of our tour, I noticed out of the side of my eyes several border policemen physically frisking some young Palestinians. They were off the main path and most Israelis and foreigners walking by probably didn’t notice them at all.

It is such a common scene in Jerusalem, particularly for anyone who walks around the Israeli side of downtown. There are so many policemen and policewomen walking around, randomly stopping young Palestinians to check their ID’s, to question them and often to frisk them as well, all in front of the eyes of everyone passing by. I always notice them, also because I know so many Palestinians and I always look to see if I might happen to know one of the people being stopped. That scene remains in my mind throughout the day. I have heard so many times from Palestinian friends how humiliating this is for them.

Of course, one could say in the reality in which we live, any Palestinian could be a terrorist and therefore every Palestinian is a suspect. Just in the past couple of weeks, there were several stabbing incidents, often ending with the Jewish Israeli victims being wounded and the young Palestinian stabber being shot dead – which in the media is called being neutralized.

In Jerusalem, almost 40% of the city’s residents are Palestinians – some 350,000 people – that makes for a lot of suspects. It also leads to way too many people feeling humiliated, alienated and angry. That is why so many Palestinians avoid coming over to demographic Israeli Jerusalem. Even fewer Israelis venture into demographic Palestinian Jerusalem and yet we insist on calling this the united eternal capital of Israel and the Jewish people.

Lately, I have been conducting a lot of political meetings with Israeli and Palestinian politicians, and senior members of the diplomatic community, such as ambassadors and consul generals, on the current political reality of an untenable status quo, no political horizon, no negotiations, a divided Palestinian polity, leadership with very questionable legitimacy among the Palestinians and an Israeli government committed to not dealing with the Palestinian issue.

 Police clash with Palestinians during a protest at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem Old City on February 28, 2022. (credit: FLASH90) Police clash with Palestinians during a protest at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem Old City on February 28, 2022. (credit: FLASH90)

I have been holding these meetings with a dear Palestinian friend and colleague, who in the past was one of the leaders of Fatah youth and today is one of the leaders of the internal opposition within the Fatah movement. We have already spent several hundred hours together in these meetings and in many intense deep talks together.

“S” (as I will call him here) is a Jerusalemite. He has lived most of his life in Jerusalem, except for a brief period when he was working and living in Europe, and four years in an Israeli prison during the first intifada. S is in his 40s and was born in Jerusalem after east Jerusalem was occupied and annexed by Israel. S, like almost all other Palestinians in east Jerusalem, is not a citizen in the country of his birth.

Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza cannot get a Palestinian Authority passport. The Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are not citizens of a country that is recognized by most western countries, nor by Israel. Many in the West Bank can get a Jordanian passport but they are not Jordanian citizens. Palestinians in east Jerusalem can get a travel document from Israel, which they have to use when they exit or enter Israel, which controls all of the external borders, even between the West Bank and Jordan.

The Israeli travel document requires a visa in order to enter every other country. In their Israeli travel document, they are granted a kind of visa, which allows them to reside in Jerusalem under Israeli law for entry into the country. Every Palestinian in Jerusalem knows that their right, granted by Israel, to live in the city of their birth and heritage can be withdrawn at any time based on a whole set of bureaucratic regulations made by Israel to enable Israel to rescind the right to be a resident in Jerusalem.

Gazans, some 2.5 million people, cannot travel anywhere, except for the very few who manage to exit Gaza via Egypt. Also, their Palestinian Authority-issued passport has very little value in terms of being able to travel freely to other countries.

It is hard for Israelis to imagine the difficulties faced by Palestinians because so many Israelis have more than one passport and for those who don’t, today the Israeli passport is accepted in most of the world, without difficult visa requirements. It is also difficult to imagine not being a citizen of any country especially when you are living in your own homeland, the place of your birth and the place of birth of many generations before you. That is, in a nutshell, what the Palestinians are fighting for – a place that they can call their own, in which their identity is recognized and they take and give their identity to the piece of land on which they have always lived.

It should not be so difficult for us as Jews, as wandering Jews as we used to call ourselves, to understand the deep-rooted need for recognition of our identity and the right to exist as a nation. Almost 40% of Jerusalemites are Palestinians. Just over 50% of the people living on the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea are Palestinians. I have yet to understand how Israel can be a democratic country within that demographic reality, where Palestinians do not have anything near equal rights and opportunities as Israeli Jews. That was one of the questions asked by a member of my group that I was guiding.

The answer I gave is that we don’t count the Gazans because we left Gaza. We don’t count the Palestinians in the West Bank because they have their own political authority and we don’t count the Jerusalemites because they don’t vote. “But that is a fantasy world,” the bewildered tourist noted. It most certainly is.

The writer is a political and social entrepreneur, who has dedicated his life to Israel, and to peace between Israel and her neighbors. He is now directing The Holy Land Bond.