Amir Salima - Fattal - 24.4.12
Amir Salima in his home in Jerusalem's Old City on Monday. Photo by Michal Fattal
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Amir Salima, 21, from the Old City of Jerusalem, has no legal status - not in Israel, not in the Palestinian Authority and not anywhere else. He has no identity card, no passport, he cannot register for university studies, apply for a job, sign up for an HMO or open a bank account. He cannot visit the West Bank or anywhere else outside of Jerusalem. In fact, he can barely leave his house, for fear of being caught by the police.

Salima is a man with no identity. The absurdity of his situation is amplified by the fact that his parents and five siblings all hold Israeli identity cards. The reason is simple: unfortunately for him, he was born in a hospital in Ramallah, and not in Jerusalem.

Over the years, the Interior Ministry turned down several requests by his parents for an Israeli identity card for their son. In three weeks, the Jerusalem District Court is set to discuss a petition he submitted against the state through the organization Hamoked: The Center for the Defense of the Individual.

Salima fell victim to a complex legal situation in which Palestinians from East Jerusalem are eligible for "residency," under the Entry to Israel Law, similar to tourists who enter Israel for a limited stay. Residency, however, does not pass automatically from parents to children, and the law does not address a situation in which the child of residents is born outside of Israel.

Salima was born in 1991 in a hospital near Ramallah, after his mother began having labor pains while visiting her sister, who lives there. "At first it didn't matter, he was a child and there were no checkpoints," said his father Naim.

The problems began when Amir's parents tried to register him for school, but through connections and good will they managed to sign him up for a school in East Jerusalem, despite his not holding an identity card.

After a long journey through the bureaucracy, he managed to take his matriculation exams, using his father's identity number. He got high marks on the exams, but three years have passed since then during which he has essentially been a prisoner in his own home.

In one case, a police officer even sought to expel him from his house, after declaring him "illegally present." In another case, he was caught by police and strip searched. Since then, he is reluctant to leave home.

As a result, while all of his siblings are now completing degrees in law and engineering, Amir is stuck in his room, in a small house next to Herod's Gate in the Old City, spending most of his time in front of his computer. "Facebook, Hotmail, what else can I do?" he says.

"Dad says driving him around in his car is more dangerous than transporting hashish," says his brother Fadi.

In the petition, Salima's lawyer Adi Lustigman argues that the right to legal standing is anchored in Israeli law and in international agreements signed by Israel.

"Amir Salima has spent his whole life in Israel on the seam line, a son to two parents who are Israeli residents and a brother to five brothers and sisters who are Israeli residents. His whole life is centered here. There is no other place where he can go and receive status," she wrote.

"This obtuseness toward a person, when a government body knows that he is a minor, is deplorable and reveals the system's double standard toward the Palestinians," the petition states.  

The petition concludes with a line from a Leonard Cohen song: "Show me the place, where you want your slave to go."

The Interior Ministry said in response, "The family's request was rejected due to various reasons, among them center of life. Moreover, their request was recently rejected by [an Interior Ministry] committee. Beyond that, our full response will be submitted to the court."