Sahar is from East Jerusalem. I am from Gaza. Our cities are about an hour away (without interruption). But now, ironically, due to Israeli closure policies banning Palestinians on either side of the divide from travelling to each other's locales, the only place we could meet was Durham, North Carolina, not Gaza; not East Jerusalem; not even Ramallah.
Sahar is a field officer with the Red Cross, here for a few months on a program at Duke. We had lunch the other day with a mutual Israeli friend and rotary fellow at UNC.
Sahar carries an East Jerusalem ID card. I carry a Gaza ID card. this means I am not allowed to cross Erez to visit Sahar in Jerusalem or the West Bank, and she cannot cross over to visit me in Gaza.
The Jerusalem ID is particularly precarious because the Israeli government makes it extremly difficult for Palestinians residents of East Jerusalem to maintain their residency there and thus their status through a series of draconian laws that are not applicable to the city's Jewish residents.
It is part of a decades old policy of maintaining the Jewish majority in Jerusalem by a ratio of 73.5% to 26.5% to reduce the Palestinian presence in the city. These measures included the controlling and revoking identity card holders inside the city for not paying things like "TV taxes" on time or being present at the residency address on a consistent basis (made more difficult by the wall and other restrictions faced by residents).
Students who continued to study long years abroad have also had their ID cards revoked. Palestinians who married and stayed abroad lost their right to be residents of the city. One Palestinian from Jerusalem I met last year is married to a Ramallah resident (who are also now not allowed into the city) and because she has lost her Jerusalem residency has to sneak in and out of the city to visit her parents.
One woman in an article
I wrote a couple of years back explained it well:
“Our occupation is of a different kind than in the West Bank or Gaza,” said Huda al-Imam, director of the Centre for Jerusalem Studies at al-Quds University.
"It has a clear strategy of annexing the land of East Jerusalem while not annexing the people, but transferring them,” she added.
"I have a difficult time explaining my legal status to people, even Israelis- I am not a citizen of Israel and at the same time I do not carry a Palestinian Authority passport (all signs of Palestinian nationhood are banned in Jersualem, including flags). I carry an Israeli 'travel document' but this does not entitle us t any of the rights or services that citizens get."
The idea is, Israel wants East Jerusalem, but does not want its people. Bad for both its economy, and for its demography.
That is one of the reasons they made sure their viscious Wall last year cut through neigbhorhoods of East Jerusalem, cutting off nearly 150, 000 Jerusalemites from their schools, hospitals, and work in Jerusalem. Eventually the journey across the checkpoints and through the Wall may become too arduous, it is hoped, and they will move out of Jerusalem altogether into the West Bank.
"Its like a force of habit-people reach for cigarettes, I reach for my hawia (ID card), even here in the US," joked Sahar.
Jerusalem is the main exit for the north-south link in Palestine, from Bethlehem to Ram Allah, and from northern West Bank to southern West Bank.
"It's very strange that Israel is so much more preoccupied with creating more settlements than providing any service for legal residents and it's equally amazing Israel wants to overcrowd a very important world heritage that is under threat and has been defined as such by Unesco," remarked former Palestinian minister of Jerusalem Affairs, in an interview with me last year, in reference to the Israeli Muncipality's approval of new Jewish housing units in the Muslim Quarter of the City near the Dome of the Rock at the time.
Khoury went on to describe what it means to have a Jerusalem ID:
"As Jerusalemites, in 1967 when we were occupied by Israel, we were given identity cards to indicate that we are residents of the city. But we are not citizens of Israel - simply residents.
As residents, we are given permanent residency if we stay in the city, and if our centre of life is in the city. But if we live outside of city for seven years, then we have no right to come back.
In practice, it works differently. Students - including my son - who were away for two continuous years, came back to find their driver's licence and insurance cancelled.
Palestinians are treated as residents if they stay in Jerusalem, but many Jerusalemites found themselves in diaspora and couldn't come back, nor their children. These Palestinians have no right to come to Jerusalem."
[More of her interview here