Illegal in their own country
The Jaouni family, fighting for their right to remain in Jerusalem, is stuck in an area annexed to the capital but left outside the separation wall.
"Wherefore I gave them also statutes that were not good, and ordinances whereby they should not live" - Ezekiel 20:25
Where are you coming from?" a soldier with a submachine gun asked me through the open window of the car in which I sat next to the driver. He once again examined my Israeli identification card, which he was holding. "From Kafr Aqab," I replied.
"Are you Israeli?" he asked me.
"Yes," I answered.
"So how did you cross to this side?"
In my imagination I answered him: "What's the difference how? Somehow. I always look for ways to cross from one side to the other." But what I actually said was: "Very simple. I drove in my car."
"And you didn't see the sign before the crossing? Israelis aren't allowed to enter here!"
Yes, I saw the sign: It's red, big. It says: "This road leads to Area A, which is under control of the Palestinian Authority. The entry of Israelis to Area A is forbidden, life-endangering, and constitutes a criminal offense!!"
"I saw," I replied. "But nobody stopped me and I drove on. After all, Kafr Aqab was annexed to Jerusalem and isn't under PA control."
The truth is that not only did I see the sign, but the moment I was on the other side of the Qalandiya checkpoint I also felt that no matter what and how much they annexed here, Jerusalem is very far from here, and anyone crossing this checkpoint is crossing a clear border and is drawn into the whirlpool of another reality and another life: Chaos and dirt and the stench of vehicles, a jumble of cars and people with dogs roaming among them, and everywhere piles of garbage and junk and trash of all kinds. That's how the public area of Qalandiyah in north Jerusalem looks - a no-man's-land, a neighborhood, a refugee camp, a village, there's no way of knowing which - and it seems that nobody wants to know either. It's a foreign country under a military government, which is recognizable by the walls and the huge, ugly checkpoint that encloses it, and the military Jeeps that make the rounds.
But I had no sense at all that I was endangering my life; nobody paid attention to me and in any case I believe that my life is my own and doesn't belong to the State of Israel, and I alone am responsible for it. Violating the law, of course, is something else, something that is defined by the state of which I am a citizen - in other words, Israel. The sign therefore informed me that I was about to commit a criminal offense. It also informed me that the road leads to an area under PA control, which Israelis are not allowed to enter. But since I had no reason to doubt that the Israeli authorities who put it here are well aware that the road first leads to large areas that have been officially annexed to the municipal area of Jerusalem, I allowed myself to decide that not only are they misleading me, they are doing so deliberately and maliciously. They don't want me to see what's happening on the other side, whereas I do want to see; to see and document. So I crossed.
And when I wanted to return, I got caught. Because in that direction, as opposed to the opposite direction, every car is checked: the baggage, the people, the ID cards. But the soldier at the checkpoint didn't know what to do with me. He had no answer to the question I had asked him: How else can I get to the people I know in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Kafr Aqab, which is a five-minute drive from the checkpoint? This time the car wasn't mine, it belonged to Ala' Jaouni, a resident of Kafr Aqab whose home I had visited.
This situation embarrassed the soldier even more. He held our papers in his hand, two twin ID cards, both Israeli. But Ala' the Palestinian actually had an advantage over me here: According to the soldier's instructions, he, a resident of Kafr Aqab, which is annexed to Jerusalem, has permission to cross, whereas I, a resident of Beit Hakerem, do not have permission. So what do you do when two such people are sitting in the same car? Delay both of them? Remove the woman and allow the man to go on his way and let the woman get stuck here - heads I win, tails you lose.
Meanwhile, a very long line had formed at the checkpoint because of us, and we were sent to stand aside for the purpose of clarification. And then I suggested that I, who apparently don't belong here and am not legal here, would get out of the car and Ala' - who belongs here and is legal here at this checkpoint that was designed for Arabs and not for Jews, and looks that way: military and ugly and humiliating for all those who come, both rulers and ruled - Ala' would immediately continue on his way, otherwise his two children, who sat in the back of the car, would be late for school.
But the soldier had already turned to go, with both our ID cards in hand, and the security guard who stood next the car said: "He won't be able to continue. Because we may have to write down his particulars. There are rules here, it doesn't work like that."
When I heard that statement I felt uncomfortable, because the truth is that Ala's "legality" in Jerusalem is hanging by a thread, and who knows what will happen to him if they write down his details in such a dubious situation. I don't know whether or not his particulars were written. The soldier, in any case, returned quite quickly from the checking that he may or may not have done and permitted us to continue.
I'm still not sure according to what rules they treated us differently from one moment to the next, and what the rules of the Qalandiyah checkpoint are (see "Cut off" box ). In any case, since then I have driven to Kafr Aqab and back several times, and I have learned that you can come and go via other checkpoints too, where the security check is more superficial than at Qalandiyah.
But I didn't make this trip of a few kilometers, which lengthens and shortens according to the mood of the guards and according to the traffic jams and road obstacles, in order to learn more about the lifestyle of the checkpoints. No, I traveled to get to know the Jaouni family and to try to understand how it happened that neither Ala', nor his wife Mimi, nor their three young children have legal status in the place they live in, although both parents were born in this country, as were their parents and grandparents.
A strange enclave
Ala' Jaouni, 35, has no legal status anywhere in the world. He was born in Jerusalem, in a house built by his grandfather on the outskirts of Sheikh Jarrah, which today remains stuck along with two other old but well-kept buildings, surrounded by gardens, in a strange type of small enclave on a nameless street on the outskirts of the crowded housing projects of Ma'alot Dafna. Ma'alot Dafna is one of four neighborhoods built after the Six-Day War and called "hinge neighborhoods." They were meant to ensure Jewish contiguity between West Jerusalem and Mount Scopus. This contiguous Jewish settlement swallowed up the three Arab houses, which nobody noticed.
But Ala's parents are still living in their old house, forced to shy away behind a bolted private iron gate, which estranges them even further from the cage-like neighborhood that surrounds them. At least it gives them some privacy in a city where few residents know exactly where the borders are: in the south it touches on Bethlehem and Beit Sahur; in the north, Ramallah.
This city, beyond being reunited after 1967, is spreading: hinge after hinge, ring after ring, patch after patch. From here, from Sheikh Jarrah/Ma'alot Dafna, Ala' left for the United States at the age of 19 to study mechanical engineering. He received a bachelor's and a master's degree, and between the two he worked for a while in order to pay for his studies, which prolonged his stay abroad. Just like me, in my youth, when I went to study in Germany and for various reasons remained there for a longer period. But unlike me - who, when I wished to do so, returned back into the country of my birth and the city that I chose to live in, Jerusalem - he was not allowed to return, because during his absence, and without his knowledge, the Interior Minister revoked his residency status in the country and city of his birth.
He discovered this when he wanted to return and live here. Now, for about two years, he has been living with his family in Kafr Aqab and is not being expelled thanks to a visitor's permit.
A long and exhausting legal proceeding is being conducted that is postponing his expulsion for the time being. But his case differs from the mysterious matter of the Qalandiyah checkpoint, which was built for some reason inside the municipal area of Jerusalem, and there is no way of knowing for certain which Jerusalemites are permitted to cross it and which are not, and why.
In the case of Ala', it actually is possible to learn the rules that determine whether people are permitted or forbidden to enter Israel, to return there and to remain there, and by dint of which he, and thousands of other Palestinians who were born there, as were their parents and their grandparents, have already been denied the right to live in Jerusalem. Because there are laws and regulations and procedures, some of which existed before 1967 and some of which were interpreted and even invented especially for the purpose of expelling those Palestinians, and the process is still going strong.
Almost certainly, there are not many Israelis who are required to make an effort to learn those laws and regulations and procedures. I, for example, whose parents and grandparents were born in Poland, didn't have to research a thing when I wanted to return here; neither I nor my partner, Jurgen Nieraad, who came to live with me here. On the contrary, Jurgen - although he, his parents and grandparents, who are Catholic, were born in Germany - because of his marriage to me immediately received an immigrant's certificate and the status of a permanent resident in Israel by dint of the Law of Return, and received all the benefits offered at the time to new immigrants: from the option of purchasing a car tax-free to the option of receiving three months' salary from the Jewish Agency, which made it much easier for him to find work. Another few years passed and the Interior Ministry, without even being asked, informed him in an official letter than he could take advantage of his right to acquire full Israeli citizenship.
Ala' Jaouni, on the other hand, has for several years been trying to learn the ostensible legal basis for the Interior Ministry's revocation of his permission to live in his city. And so he discovered that residents of East Jerusalem, which was annexed to Israel, are subject to the instructions of Article 1 (b ) of the Entry into Israel Law, which states that "The residency in Israel of a person who is not a citizen of Israel or a holder of an oleh visa or an oleh certificate shall be by a residency permit under this law."
As though they were tourists
In other words, these people, who have lived here for generations and did not enter Israel at all but were annexed to it after Israel entered their territory in 1967, find themselves living in it by dint of a permit that is liable to be confiscated from them as though they were tourists, immigrants or foreign workers. How are they liable to lose them? By dint of a group of regulations called Regulations of Entry into Israel, in which Article 11 rules that a permanent residency permit will expire if the holder of the permit has left Israel and settled in a country outside Israel. It also rules that a person is considered as having settled in a country outside Israel if one of the following conditions is met: 1. Remaining outside the borders of Israel for a period exceeding at least seven years. 2. Obtaining a permanent residency permit in another country. 3. Obtaining the citizenship of another country through naturalization.
Well, nobody confiscated my partner Jurgen's permanent residency permit in Israel, although he held the citizenship of another country and a permanent residency permit for that country. Ala', on the other hand, who really did remain abroad for over seven years, and in spite of that does not have citizenship or even a permanent residency permit in any country in the world, had his permit confiscated, when in the first place it is strange that he even received it; since when does a person need a residency permit when he and his family were born and have lived in their country for generations?
Did I ever receive a permit to live in my country? After all, I was born with that permit. But Ala' required the expensive services of a lawyer in order to try to get back the permit that was given to him when the State of Israel annexed the neighborhood where he was born and lived, and which was confiscated after he stayed abroad for a while.
He had to produce a long series of documents in order to prove everything that happened to him during the years he lived abroad: grades and certificates and permits of all types, and another long series of documents in order to prove his connection to his city.
To date his request has been rejected twice. The appeal to the court in his case, which is being handled by Judge Yigal Mersel, includes 32 densely written pages. The exchange of letters with the authorities and the minutes of proceedings and "hearings" on his case probably take up dozens of additional pages.
Recently the Population and Immigration Registry of the Interior Ministry sent his attorney another refusal, worded as follows: "I hereby have the honor of informing you that your client's request for a permanent residency permit has been examined and it was decided to refuse the request, as explained below:
"In order for us to be able to examine the request, your client must be living in Israel for at least two years. Your client has been living in Israel since October 21, 2009, in other words, less than two years. That is why your request does not meet the criteria."
So it doesn't "meet the criteria." But aside from the fact that Ala' was born and grew up here, and his entire family lives here, the authorities have piled up obstacles in recent years in order to prevent his entry into the country and his stay here, which is now being posited as a condition for receiving a residency permit. This young man faces an absurd situation that threatens to wear him down until he takes everything he has and leaves his country and his birthplace and his father's home. Gets out of here. Disappears. Evaporates. Or is expelled - he and his young children and their mother, his wife.
His wife. Yes. What about his wife? Why wasn't she sitting in the car bringing her children to school via the Qalandiyah checkpoint, neither on the day when I drove with him, nor on any other day? After all, she is a woman with free time, because although she has a profession, she has no opportunity to work. And nevertheless Ala', who does work and has no time, is the one who drives the children and the one who attends the parents' meetings at their school, whereas she has never even seen the schools. Nor can she walk around Jerusalem with her children or travel with them, for example, to visit their grandparents in Sheikh Jarrah/Ma'alot Dafna.
So Mimi already evaporates as much as she can, secludes herself, shrinks. Because for her there won't be any legal proceeding. She can "by law," be seized and placed on a military vehicle and expelled immediately, as has already happened to many like her. Because she is an "infiltrator," "living in the region without a legal permit," according to the amendment to the Israel Defense Forces order "to prevent infiltration." How is this possible?
Moazaz Husseini Jaouni, according to her full name, was born in Gaza City in 1980. She completed her law studies and later, in 2002, married Ala' the Jerusalemite and joined him where he was living at the time in the United States. Their three children were born there. In regard to that, the Interior Ministry wrote to Jaouni's attorney: "Although it was claimed that your client made attempts to return to live in Israel, your client continues to have center of life abroad, worked and studied in the United States, started a family and his three children were even born there."
From that one might think that Ala' married an American woman, had three children with her and is happy and perhaps even wealthy, living in the land of unlimited opportunities. But when that letter was written, Ala' and Mimi and their children had already been living in Jerusalem for over half a year, in a rented apartment in Kafr Aqab that Mimi, because of the risk of immediate expulsion hanging over her, rarely leaves. When Ala' travels abroad for work, the children stay home, because there is nobody to take them to school. Or they leave their mother and sleep at the home of their grandparents, who still have their "residency permits" and can therefore move around freely and drive their grandchildren to school.
Even if the endless attempts by Ala' to receive a residence permit in Jerusalem eventually succeed, Mimi's status will remain unchanged. Because the State of Israel in various and sundry ways controls the entire Palestinian Population Registry (for the information of the many Israelis who think there is some kind of Palestinian independence on the West Bank and in Gaza ). No Palestinian goes anywhere in his country or changes his address legally without its consent, and Israel has ruled that the residents of Gaza are not permitted to transfer their place of residence to the West Bank, not to mention Jerusalem.
A special government decision of June 2008, which extended the validity of the 2003 Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law (a temporary law ) - which denies Israeli citizenship or residency to Palestinian partners of residents of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip - also ruled that since the Gaza Strip "is an area where there is activity that is liable to endanger the security of the State of Israel and its citizens, the government instructs the interior minister or whoever he has authorized, not to approve the granting of licenses or permits for staying in Israel for anyone listed in the Population Registry as a resident of the Gaza Strip."
Mimi and Ala' are therefore absolutely forbidden to live with their children under the same roof in Jerusalem. And not in Ramallah or Nablus either. So meanwhile they are partly stuck and partly hiding in a rented apartment in Kafr Aqab. Why in Kafr Aqab, a place they don't like at all? Once this place really was a village amid a marvelous hilly landscape, near Ramallah. One can still see its historic core: A handful of deserted rural stone houses still stand on their foundations in an uncultivated field sown with thorns. In 1967, when the municipal area of Jerusalem was arbitrarily almost tripled in size, part of the agricultural land of Kafr Aqab was annexed to the city's area of jurisdiction, and this area was gradually built up with high density, without any orderly planning or suitable infrastructure.
Now Kafr Aqab is supposedly a neighborhood of Jerusalem, a mishmash of tall and low buildings, ugly and beautiful, along steep alleys and one main street, among mounds of construction trash and piles of garbage, and one broken traffic light at the main junction toward which cars push in from all directions (I myself have already been witness there to two traffic accidents, right before my eyes). The thousands of residents of this undefined urban area pay property tax to the Jerusalem municipality and receive the finger in return (see box, right ).
Mimi and Ala' really despise this place; she, who grew up in the upscale Rimal neighborhood in Gaza City and he, who grew up in the well-kept stone house in Jerusalem. There is no regular supply of clean water and electricity, no place to stroll or play with the children, and not even personal security, because the Israel Police won't come to this place even when they are needed. And Mimi actually needed the police once when Ala' was traveling and she was left alone in the apartment and the downstairs neighbor informed her that someone was breaking into her car. The burglars could do their work undisturbed, because had she called the police and had they come they might have caught not only the thieves but her as well, "the infiltrator," and expelled her to Gaza.
The truth is that this is exactly why the two live with their children in this miserable suburb which isn't welcoming to anyone. They hope that here, in a kind of no-man's-land whose occupiers apparently don't want it any more, they won't hunt her. Who cares about this neighborhood, whose residents aren't even sure where it ends, it and Greater Jerusalem along with it, and where Ramallah begins? Here Ala' can say that he lives in Jerusalem (although it isn't Jerusalem, and certainly not the Jerusalem he loves ) and his children study there - a significant issue in the appeal against revoking his status in the city - and also hope they won't pay attention to his wife and won't expel her.
The real objective
But even if they never pay attention to her, how long will Mimi Jaouni want to be imprisoned within her four walls, not free to wander around and live in other places and landscapes, and unable to go out to work, although she has a law degree? That's why perhaps in the end, the State of Israel will some day succeed in causing this couple to be fed up with this life, and they'll take their children and get up and leave - to where? There's no way of knowing. They will have to request refugee status in some country.
For what reasons is the State of Israel threatening to uproot them from their place of residence? For what purpose do we have all the laws and regulations and orders by dint of which thousands like them are persecuted and expelled? In order to protect the security of the State of Israel? After all, every intelligent Israeli will understand that there is no connection between the expulsion of Mimi and Ala' and their children and the security of the State of Israel. They are candidates for expulsion from here as part of a policy meant to reduce the number of Arab residents of Jerusalem to a minimum, which at some point was dubbed "the quiet transfer" (see box, left ). Transfer according to law. Expulsion of people from their country by law.
Cut off: Checkpoints have already divided Jerusalem
The construction of the separation fence cut off over 100,000 residents of East Jerusalem, who live in neighborhoods beyond the fence (most are still within the municipal area of jurisdiction ), from the center of their lives in Jerusalem. With the closing of the A-Ram checkpoint in February 2009, two checkpoints remain in the north of the city: Atarot (Qalandiya h) and the Shoafat refugee camp, as the main crossings for the population that was cut off from East Jerusalem.
Residents of the northern neighborhoods of Jerusalem are forced to cross these checkpoints every day on their way to the city - to work, school, medical institutions, etc. - and back home. Those crossing at Qalandiyah suffer from prolonged delays and are routinely forced to wait between one and two hours when they leave and return via the checkpoint. The public transportation lane that operated in the past at the checkpoint has been canceled, and passengers who arrive at the checkpoint by bus, including students on their way to school, are forced to get off and cross the checkpoint on foot. In addition, today only the car owner is permitted to use the car lane, while the other passengers in the car, including the ill, the elderly and pregnant women, are forced to get out of the car and cross the checkpoint on foot. (From a report of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel: "Human Rights in East Jerusalem: Facts and Figures," May 2010 .)
Who is permitted to cross at the Qalandiyah checkpoint? Several attempts to reach the Civil Administration in writing and by phone, to find out why (Jewish ) Israelis are not allowed to cross at the Qalandiyah checkpoint to neighborhoods located in the area of jurisdiction of Jerusalem/Israel, were not answered. At the conclusion of this article, a reply was received from the Central Command headquarters, saying that the request had been received and was being handled.
The quiet transfer: In East Jerusalem, there is nothing permanent about "permanent resident" status
In 1967 Israel annexed about 70,000 dunams to West Jerusalem and imposed Israeli law on the annexed area. That is in contradiction to international law, which considers East Jerusalem occupied territory, like the rest of the territory of the West Bank, whose residents are protected residents who cannot be expelled from their homes under any circumstances. The residents of this annexed area received Israeli ID cards, which granted them the status of "permanent residents" in the State of Israel.
"Permanent resident" status is granted to foreign citizens who come of their own free will to Israel and want to live here. And de facto, the State of Israel relates to residents of East Jerusalem as foreigners, whose status can be routinely revoked. Residents of East Jerusalem are repeatedly forced to prove their residence in the city to the Interior Ministry and the National Insurance Institute, which conduct investigations and examinations designed only to invalidate their residence.
Residence status is often revoked arbitrarily, without any judicial recourse, and is discovered only after the fact. Those who want to restore their status are asked to provide innumerable documents. Many of them are forced to employ lawyers, and many are forced to turn to the courts in order to receive what they want.
In the mid-1990s the process of revoking residency from the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem became a policy; the human rights organizations called it "the quiet transfer." From 1967 to 2010, residency status in Jerusalem was revoked from over 13,000 Palestinian residents.
(Source: The Association for Civil Rights in Israel )
Two cities: East Jerusalem in numbers
"Ninety percent of Israeli citizens who speak of the exalted nature of an eternally united Greater Jerusalem don't know what they are talking about and about what they are taking an oath. The other 10 percent are familiar with the situation but are trying to change it 'in favor' of the Jews."
(Writer Eyal Megged in ACRI report, "Human Rights in East Jerusalem: Facts and Figures," May 2010 .)
• Number of residents: 303,249 - 36 percent of Jerusalem residents (as of the end of 2009 ).
• People living below the poverty line: 65.1 percent, compared to 30.8 percent of the Jews in the city (2008 ).
• Children living below the poverty line: 74.4 percent of Arab children in the city, compared to 45.1 percent of Jewish children (2008 ).
• Expropriation of land: Since the annexation of the city, Israel has expropriated 24,500 dunams, over one third of the area of East Jerusalem, which were privately owned by Arabs.
• Construction: Up until the end of 2007, 50,197 residential units were built for Jews on the expropriated land, and not a single one for Palestinians.
• Connection to the water system: About 160,000 residents are not connected.
• Sewage system: 50 kilometers of main sewage lines are missing.
• Summary: Discrimination in the areas of planning and construction, expropriation of land and minimal investment in physical infrastructure and in government and municipal services. These are the practical expressions of Israeli policy, whose objective is to maintain a Jewish majority in the city.
(From the ACRI report: "Human Rights in East Jerusalem: Facts and Figures," May 2010 )