After 25 Years of Kafkaesque Limbo, East Jerusalem Palestinian Gets Recognized by Israel

With his new ID card, Amir Saleima can now sign up with health maintenance organizations, educational facilities, get a driver’s license, open a bank account, get a job and actually live some kind of life.

Amir Saleima in his parents’s Jerusalem home.
Michal Fattal

After 25 years of waiting, Amir Saleima received his Israeli identity card on Tuesday. Saleima lives in the Old City of Jerusalem, and this is the first official recognition he has received from any government anywhere.

The East Jerusalem resident can now sign up with health maintenance organizations, educational facilities, get a driver’s license, open a bank account, get a job and actually live some kind of life.

Saleima’s story is Kafkaesque, a consequence of the unusual legal status of Palestinians living in East Jerusalem alongside some plain bad luck.

He is from a Jerusalem family, his parents and five siblings are Israeli residents, and he has lived in Jerusalem all his life. But his administrative misfortune came when he happened to be born during a family visit to the West Bank. As a result, the Israeli government refused to recognize his residency status.

Palestinians in East Jerusalem are not generally Israeli citizens (although they have the right to apply for citizenship). Instead, they are permanent residents. Residency is not necessarily passed down automatically from parents to children, and the law does not specify what happens in the case of a child of two permanent residents who is born outside of Israel’s borders.

Saleima was born in 1991 in a hospital near Ramallah, after his mother went into labor while visiting her sister in the West Bank. “At first it wasn’t important. He was a child and there weren’t any checkpoints,” recalls his father, Naim.

The problems began when it came time to register Amir for school. Through connections and some goodwill, the Saleimas managed to sign Amir up for a school in East Jerusalem, even though he had no ID number. He even managed to take his matriculation exams – after a long bureaucratic ordeal and by using his father’s passport number – and received high grades. But since then, he has been stopped a number of times by the police, and has basically been forced to stay home. He couldn’t enter the West Bank or leave Israel, work, go to college or own property.

Saleima isn’t registered as a citizen of the Palestinian Authority either, and had no legal status.

He went to court four years ago, asking the Interior Ministry to grant him official status. Two years ago, Jerusalem District Court accepted his petition and he received temporary residency status. Last week, after the completion of a background and criminal check, he received permanent residency status in Israel.

In a month’s time, the ministry’s humanitarian committee will discuss a similar case: Adel Mata’av, another Jerusalem resident, was born in Hebron and has spent years fighting to receive legal residency status in Israel. His battle has involved four legal cases, including one before the High Court of Justice, as well as hearings at seven interministerial committees. He even underwent a DNA test to prove that he’s his parents’ son.