"Banished from their own city"
Stark fear was expressed in the woman's eyes and, even before she opened her mouth, it was obvious that she had changed her mind and that she no longer wanted to be interviewed. She is but one of hundreds, if not thousands, of Jerusalemites who recently received the laconic form letter from Aharon Luzon, director of the population administration bureau. That letter, which uses the condescending tone of bureaucracy, has ordered this woman to leave her city, her home and her family:
"Re: Expiry of permanent residence permit.
I hereby inform you that the validity period for your permit residence permit has ended, in accordance with the Entry to Israel Law (1952) and the Regulations Governing Entry to Israel (1974). In light of the fact that you have become a naturalized American citizen . . . and in light of the aforesaid, you are hereby requested to return your identity card and your free passage permit to the population administration bureau in Jerusalem. Furthermore, you are requested to terminate your residence in Jerusalem."
She is 60 years old. Born in a village not far from Jerusalem, she attended school in the big city. From early childhood, she became acquainted with the narrow alleys of the Old City of Jerusalem. In 1953, she married a native-born Jerusalemite with whom she raised a family. Her husband died four years ago. She traveled with her husband to the U.S. on several occasions - her parents lived there - and she eventually received American citizenship. When her husband became ill, they flew to the U.S., primarily for his medical treatments.
The couple always paid their municipal taxes and had no intentions of living abroad. Suddenly, she learned that she is one of thousands of Jerusalemites whose right to live in Jerusalem is not recognized in accordance with Israeli regulations. Her permanent resident status, which she received when Israel annexed East Jerusalem, was a "favor" that the Israeli authorities granted the city's non-Jewish residents. A temporary favor, as it turns out, which can be canceled with the wave of a clerk's hand in response to government policy and on the grounds that Jerusalem is not that person's "main place of abode" - whether because the individual being asked to leave took up residence in a neighborhood on Jerusalem's outskirts (due to Israeli policy forbidding the construction of housing in the city for Palestinians and due to difficulties in finding a suitable residence) or whether because he/she traveled abroad to study or work.
My would-be interviewee is afraid that, if her name and photograph are publicized, she will be spotted at every military checkpoint and her identity card will be confiscated. Every knock on the door throws her into a panic: perhaps "they" have come to banish her from the home she shares with her children.
Last Thursday, the B. and S. families living in Ramallah were very frightened. The sons of both families, aged 10 and 11 respectively, had been gone all afternoon, and their parents were deathly afraid that the two boys had gone down to the checkpoint in order to participate in the routine "battle" between Palestinian youths and Israeli soldiers. That day, a university student, Abdallah Salah, was killed by live bullets. Mrs. S. tried to hide here fear behind a veil of irony: "I hope that they have not gone on an expedition aimed at the liberation of the homeland".
However, as the hours dragged by, irony was gradually replaced by deep feelings of concern. In the end, as it turned out, the children had simply gone to visit a friend. However, the fears were not entirely baseless and they will continue to pursue the parents of both families. No matter how organized the recent demonstrations have been, Palestinian children will always be exposed to the circumstances that have generated these demonstrations. Eleven-year-old H. has relatives who live in a village and, together with children's games, he learned how to fear the confiscation of yet another piece of family-held territory, which has been declared, in accordance with some obscure, nameless law, to be "state-owned land", that is, land that belongs to the Jews. Y. has family in Gaza: a grandmother, a grandfather and several cousins. Over the past three years, the opportunities and permits for mutual visiting have steadily dwindled, and, now, if the family is able to get together once a year, they consider the event a veritable miracle. Y's father cannot even obtain a permit to enter Gaza, even though he was born there. Y is mature for his years: he knows that his Jewish peers do not have to face such problems. Israeli military intelligence experts can demonstrate their prowess by detecting what Arafat may or may not have said in confidential conversations. However, these experts cannot predict when the anger of people, who live under constant conditions of humiliation, degradation and discrimination, will finally burst out and lead these people to disregard their deep-seated fears. The experts cannot predict how and when the fears occasioned by a knock on the door or by a soldier at a checkpoint or by a bulldozer will erupt into the rage of protest and confrontation.
Ran Greenstein Education Policy Unit, University of the Witwatersrand Johannesburg, South Africa