Tania and Saleem are caught in a labyrinth of Israeli bureaucracy. She is a Palestinian from Jerusalem and he is from Ramallah. They both work in Ramallah but will lose their Jerusalem residency rights unless they can constantly prove that Jerusalem is the center of their lives.
The existence of the Israeli security wall makes the ability to move easily back and forth very difficult and time-consuming. “It is like crossing an international border daily just to get to work or to buy groceries,” Tania told Arab News.
The couple’s troubles were further exasperated when they had their first child and the Israeli Interior Ministry refused to provide their newborn with the needed legal documents until they can prove that Jerusalem is “the center of their lives.”
Israeli officials usually need proof that the couple live in Jerusalem for at least two years before they are ready to process their papers.
The Palestinian couple have finally found a solution, although an uneasy one. They are now living in the crowded unregulated town of Kufr Aqab, which is technically part of Jerusalem but located beyond the arbitrarily built Israeli wall.
“We can live in a nice house with nice streets and pavements in Ramallah but we are forced to live in a totally unregulated area without paved streets and garbage not regularly picked up,” Tania said.
Since 1967, nearly 15,000 Palestinians from Jerusalem have had their residency rights revoked, according to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.
The problem facing the 350,000 Palestinians from Jerusalem such as Tania and Saleem has suddenly become even more complicated with the passing of an Israeli law last week that allows the minister of the interior to revoke the residency rights of Palestinians simply if they do not show “loyalty to the state of Israel.”
The Israeli law was passed to circumvent a decade-long Israeli high court ruling that gave the government six months to respond to the appeal of four Palestinians accused of not showing loyalty to Israel by participating in the 2006 Palestinian elections.
The elections were sanctioned by Israel and were supervised by international observers. The results of the elections angered Israel and the US because the winners were supportive — and not members — of Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza.
Khaled Abu Arafeh, who was minister of Jerusalem affairs in the short-lived Ismail Haniyeh government, told Arab News that he is not sure whether the new law will be applied retroactively to him and the three Jerusalemites elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council.
“Our lawyers are not sure whether we can now return to Jerusalem or whether the Israeli government will use another trick to keep us banished,” he told Arab News.
Abu Arafeh, Muhammad Abu Teir, Ahmad Attoun and Muhammad Totah have been banished from Jerusalem since 2007 by the Israeli military using emergency regulations.
For Palestinians in Jerusalem, a prolonged stay away from the country for work or any other reason can easily be grounds for losing this right and therefore the ability to return to your birthplace, unless as a tourist with limited permission to stay.
Palestinians in East Jerusalem do not have passports from the Palestinian government, which is denied any right to represent or speak on their behalf.