Munther Fahmi
Munther Fahimi in his bookstore in the American Colony Hotel. Photo by Daniel Bar-On
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Munther Fahmi is a well-known figure in Jerusalem's diplomatic community and among the city's foreign press corps. A visit to his small bookstore at the American Colony Hotel is a must for anyone seeking to immerse himself in the roots of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Among his many and well-known patrons are ambassadors, authors and politicians, including former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

But it appears all the connections in the world are no match for Israel's Interior Ministry, which is now seeking to have Fahmi deported.

Fahmi, a Palestinian, was born in Jerusalem and lived there until he was 21, when he left for the United States for 20 years. He married in the U.S. and acquired an American passport.

He visited Israel often and ultimately returned to Jerusalem to live in 1993, though his Israeli residency rights were revoked in the interim.

Like most Arab residents of East Jerusalem who chose not to apply for Israeli citizenship, Fahmi had Israeli residency, but not citizenship. Residency is automatically revoked in the event of an absence of many years or the acquisition of citizenship from another country.

Over the past 17 years, Fahmi has entered and left Israel using his American passport and was generally here on a tourist visa. Whenever the visa expired, he would leave the country and reenter so that it would renew.

A year and a half ago, however, Fahmi was informed by the Interior Ministry that his visa would no longer be renewed and he should leave the country permanently.

All of his requests to reconsider in light of the fact that his family and his business are in Jerusalem were turned down. He also filed a petition to the High Court of Justice seeking legal status here.

The three-judge panel suggested that he withdraw his petition and seek permanent resident status through an inter-ministerial humanitarian committee, which has the authority to consider factors beyond the letter of the law. The court also suggested that Fahmi's lawyer had raised other issues that the Interior Ministry would consider.

His lawyer cited evidence that the center of Fahmi's life was in Israel and that this could be attested to by a number of Israeli institutions here, including Haaretz and the Steimatzky bookstore chain.

The Interior Ministry said in response that the matter had been considered by the High Court of Justice and that they accepted the state's position at that time.

Since then, there have been no new developments, the ministry said, adding that if Fahmi files a request to the inter-ministerial humanitarian committee, the matter will be handled according to procedure.

"One way or another," the ministry said, "what was provided up to this point was a letter sent less than a week ago, and it will be dealt with, as stated in accordance with procedures."

A petition to Interior Minister Eli Yishai that has been circulated on Fahmi's behalf has been signed by hundreds of people, including journalists, publishers and academics. The petition notes the importance of Fahmi's bookstore as a meeting place for authors, diplomats, journalists and others.