From East Jerusalem to the West Bank
By Sadiah Waziri

March 22, 2012

[I was selected to take part in a six week long media project organized by NGO Operation Groundswell: Backpacking with a purpose! The objective of the trip was to explore the conflict region through the media's lens-- working with local journalists, human rights organizations, and community leaders. We explored the realities behind the Israel/Palestine conflict, collaborating with Kalandia Youth Media in the West Bank, where I planned and ran photography and videography workshops for kids. This article is based on one of our several bus trips from Jerusalem to Kalandia refugee camp in the west bank.]

Her eyes shifted right to left, reading the black calligraphy on the tiny piece of paper stuck to the bus window. Her mouth steadily opened as she quietly recited in a measured and rhythmic tone. Adjusting her beige floral headscarf and gradually closing her eyes, she reflected on the verses. The words written in Arabic were from the Qur’an. They are said to have been revealed by God to the Prophet Muhammad, who journeyed in 622CE, through the Hijaz mountain range towards the city of Madinah (located in modern-day Saudi Arabia). Believed to be a potent protection from evil and harm, it is usually recited by Muslims during travel. Muhammad's expedition from persecution in Makkah to his great welcome in Madinah is known as the Hijrah, Arabic for "migration" or "flight". I too was on a journey of my own.
The scene unfolding behind the old purple curtains of the bus and the Qur'an passage stuck to the window, depicted reality. A lofty 26-foot tall cement wall cut harshly through the landscape, unwinding along the desolate road. Barbed wire, with plastic bags stuck in its thorns, wound cruelly along The Wall's crown. Watch towers loomed overhead appearing at regular intervals, covered with black nets to distort the silhouettes of soldiers high above. This was The Wall, also known as-- depending on your politics-- the security fence, the apartheid wall, and the separation barrier.
The bus suddenly halted, creating a whirlwind of dust on the road behind us. A man stepped onto the bus, wearing a white chemise drenched in sweat. He wiped his slick forehead, and sat down swiftly to enjoy the air-conditioned coolness. He looked around the bus, making a general observation of the occupants. A pattern I noticed in the West Bank was local people curious of loud foreigners, joining in on conversations they could make out. This day-- and this man-- was no different. We were discussing the controversy concerning the Green Line-- a temporary geo-political boundary based on an armistice agreement between Israeli forces and Arab armies in 1948.
“If they knew I live in the West Bank, they would strip me of my permit," the man said. "It is easy to lose a permit; they look for any excuse to take it from you.” The Palestinian man was referring to the residency permit issued to him by the State of Israel in Jerusalem. In other words, this man had a permit that allowed him to live in Jerusalem- the religiously charged holy city at the heart of all three Abrahamic faiths. Every time he crossed into the West Bank, passing The Wall on his way in, the risk of losing his permit grew substantially. The reason for this heightened risk is due to the fact that the Green Line is located in Jerusalem, but Jerusalem up until the annexation wall is Israeli administered. It is important to note that the Canadian government does not recognize Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem, and rather identifies the Green Line as Israel's border in Jerusalem.
The man left the bus a few moments afterwards, leaving me puzzled. Although I understood that the area was Israeli administered, I wondered- what are the implications of stripping Palestinians of their citizenship? I decided to research residency permits. I needed to understand the complexities of Palestinian daily life. Several laws had been enacted over the years by the Israeli government that could easily strip Palestinians of their East Jerusalem residency. Most Palestinians live in East Jerusalem, which is recognized by the UN as being occupied by Israel. The restrictions on Palestinians are manifold. If a Palestinian spent more than seven years abroad, the Israeli government stripped them of citizenship. If they acquired citizenship in another country, the Israeli government stripped them of citizenship. There have been many instances where Palestinians have had their residency permits revoked simply for obtaining their education abroad. The man who had just left the bus was one of dozens of Palestinians I spoke with over the course of my trip who faced having their citizenship cards taken away. I attempted to better understand the rationale behind the man’s fear and critically examined the impetus for the Israeli government to cease his permit (and ultimately his right to his own land).
Jamal, an old Palestinian taxi driver I met during my stay in Jerusalem, provided personal insight. “I have been threatened with revocation--I am displaced in my own homeland," he said as he drove me to Abraham hotel. "So what if I choose to go to the West Bank? To me it is connected to East Jerusalem, they are both my home.” He pointed at the houses dotting the valley and mountains surrounding Jerusalem, as we drove further East. “These homes...I know the families-- real ones. They don’t live here anymore," he said. "It was all taken from them.” The homes now housed Jewish Israelis, transplanted here from various parts of Europe and North America through settlement programs. I was puzzled, recalling Article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention which states that the “Occupying Power shall not transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” The sentiment that the Israeli government was tactfully usurping land for a pro-Jewish demographic in the city was collectively felt by the indigenous Arabs I spoke with during my stay.
I also met a former Israeli Defence Force (IDF) solider named Tzuli, who delegates part of his time to helping disenfranchised Arab youth in the region. During our visit, Tzuli had invited us to witness the solidarity movement and protests that take place every Friday in Sheikh Jarrah against the eviction of Palestinians from their homes. During one of our stop over's in the village, the animosity was apparent. The walls of local shops were spray painted with visual depictions of injustice or resistance art and graffiti; giving us a powerful indicator into the intensity of the battle to retain home and land.
The Human Rights Centre in Jerusalem identified that since the occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, Israel had effectively withdrawn the residency rights of 14,266 Palestinian Jerusalemites. HaMoked, an Israeli human rights organization that assists Palestinians of the Occupied Territories, also claimed and accused the Interior Ministry of systematically enacting a routine “quiet deportation” policy towards Arab residents, implying a deep embedded agenda to establish a pro-Jewish demographic in the holy city.
The statistics made me question the nature of the democratic principles that the current government routinely boasts of implementing. The issue strengthened my desire to understand how these policies in turn affect the calls for peace and stability in the region. I further researched the topic and found that under the Freedom of Information Act, the official interpretation that the Interior Ministry chose to pursue had been stemmed by a 1988 court ruling, which found that Israel had the right to repeal residency for any East Jerusalem inhabitant that showed transfer of “center-of-life”. It became clear to me why the Palestinian man we met on the bus would frequent trips to Jerusalem. It was to prove that East Jerusalem remained his “centre-of-life”. It was hard to ignore the severe economic, social and family oriented repercussions the Palestinian inhabitants had to endure on a daily basis; from checkpoints to the separation wall, to the threat of revocation. It is also understood that if a resident is overseas, the term “abroad’ also implies to residences that frequent the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. This policy can be extremely difficult to bear or accept if a Palestinian chooses to marry someone in the West Bank. It is widely understood that their spouse will not be allotted Jerusalem residency. Israeli organizations such as ACRI (Association for Civil Rights in Israel) and HaMoked (Center for the Defence of the Individual) are adamant to expose and hold their government responsible for not abiding by international humanitarian law, as Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly confers, “[...] Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his or her own and return, to it.”
The panoramic view of Jerusalem was remarkable; the conflict was laid out right in front of our eyes; we scanned the region from an elevated location. This was my experience during a free study tour with the Israeli NGO Ir-Amim as they outlined, exposed and monitored government policies that have impeded stability and equity in the region. The gold circular copula of the Dome of the Rock illuminated from a distance. The highlight of the tour mapped out the separation wall. The most obvious travesty we could witness as participants on the study tour was the divorce of bereaved Bethlehem farmers from their olive groves and the lofty Israeli settlement fortresses perched on selected mountaintops. The Absentee Property Law that was passed in 1950- which was detrimental towards Palestinians who were forced to abandon their homes, has been used by the State of Israel to once again continue a policy of "quiet deportation". Farmers were deemed absent from their olive groves because Israel had erected the "security fence". When I directly spoke with the tour guide; a soft spoken Israeli woman, she quoted familiar arguments made by farmers such as, "How am I absent? I am right here. Israelis with American passports can live in these settlements but are foreign to the land. They are not considered absent when they go abroad. I am not absent just because Israel says I am." The Ir Amim tour guide also outlined the socio-economic disparities prevalent due to the separation wall. She cited the economic deterioration, rise in poverty, and the lack of education and mobility as few of the factors affecting the indigenous communities.
Another discerning reality was regarding the lack of transparency for Palestinians to construct homes in Jerusalem. The hurdles put in place to acquire a construction permit in East Jerusalem have inevitably caused a troubling housing shortage amongst Arabs. It is one of many reasons leading up to the loss of permanent residency statuses. Upon reflection, I recall the old Palestinian woman on the bus. On her journey in her homeland, even as her eyelids shut, she was not absent from the reality of occupation She was present.

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