The past five weeks have seen repeated clashes break out in East Jerusalem. Israel’s ongoing oppression of Palestinians means clashes with Israeli police forces are nothing new in occupied Palestine. This time, Palestinians are out to protest Israel’s recently imposed limitations on access to Al Aqsa Mosque, the mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem, whose golden dome is visible even during the most ferocious sandstorms.
Al Aqsa isn’t just any mosque. For Muslims, it represents the world’s third holiest site, and for Palestinians more generally, it symbolises Palestinian presence across the historic city of Jerusalem. Jews, on the other hand, claim that it was the site of two Jewish temples in ancient times. This is why Israel decided in mid-August that it was going to oversee access to the mosque and bar Muslims from entering between between 7am and 11am. And it doesn’t end there. Based on an official statement published by the Israeli state, there is reason to believe that the restrictions will gradually extend and force Muslim worshippers to hand in their identity identification cards before entering the mosque.
As Palestinians, we know, as long as we are subject to Israel’s systematic laws of control, regulation, and punishment, we will remain dependent on the Israeli state. This is why the current protests in East Jerusalem are not only about Al Aqsa, but about resisting the restrictions we face with our Palestinian ID cards when we want to access our very land and heritage.
The same applies for those of us in diaspora. Take my family, and the city of Akka. Akka is my favourite city in the world. It’s an ancient city surrounded by walls that barred Napoleon from entering, and now serve as makeshift diving boards for boys who gleefully throw their bodies into the waves beneath them. Walking in the winding streets of the Old City I find myself in awe of the city’s beauty and longevity. It is as though I can’t open my eyes wide enough to take in a much of it as I want. I love Akka.
Like every other city in historic Palestine (present-day Israel), Akka is inaccessible to most members of my family. Unlike them, I was born outside of Palestine and hold a British passport. Being without a Palestinian ID card and with a foreign Passport has been a mixed blessing. It has allowed me to live a relatively sheltered life abroad, a life many Palestinians can only dream of. But this privilege gives me the feeling that I am somehow betraying my beloved Palestine and those in diaspora who are denied access to their homeland.
Palestinians in diaspora make up the majority of Palestinians. Since Israel’s creation in 1948, there have been several waves of migration into exile. Besides the over 700,000 Palestinians displaced in the Nakba, in 1948, thousands more were uprooted during the 1967 Six-Day War, in which Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip; and many others left in between and after the war. They escaped the Israeli occupation and the threat of persecution in the hope of finding better work and education abroad. In the decade following the ‘67 War, an average of 21,000 Palestinians were pushed out of the Occupied Palestinian Territories per year. We hold all kinds of passports: Kuwaiti, Canadian, Chilean, Israeli, amongst others. And some of us hold no ID at all.
In fact, individual family members often hold different passports, and, therefore, have different rights within Palestine. Add to that Israel’s apartheid ID system, and you quickly lose track of who is granted what rights. My grandmother, for instance, was born in the town of Beir Saba (now Beersheva) and originally held a Palestinian ID. When she passed away, she was older than the State of Israel. If she had stayed in Beir Saba and survived the ethnic cleansing of the Nakba, she would have received Israeli citizenship. But instead, my grandmother moved to Gaza, where her father took up a job with the British Mandate Government. When Israel occupied the Gaza Strip in 1967, they handed my grandparents green Palestinian ID cards, which prevented them from voting and travelling into their hometown without permission. These green ID cards were passed down to my father and all of his siblings. Most of them were able to leave Gaza, but two of them remain, and their children are also cursed with the limitations of the green ID card and the Israeli siege. Some of my cousins haved lived their whole lives within 360 square kilometres and have never left the Gaza strip. I have cousins who will never see where our grandmother was born.
The Israeli ID system is based on the Ottoman system; children inherit their parents’ status automatically. For Palestinians, this happens at the age of 16. Therefore, I should have a Palestinian ID, too. However, when I was three years old my father lost his Palestinian ID. At the time, we lived in Dubai. When our Palestinian IDs were about to expire, the Gulf War broke out and airports were closed. This meant, my father could not return to Palestine to renew his ID, and so he lost his Palestinian citizenship. And, since Palestinians can only obtain ID cards after the age of sixteen, neither my brother nor me hold one today.
Not holding any form of Palestinian ID has meant that I have been able to access all areas of historic Palestine, including the city of Akka. But it also means that I have no right to reside in any part of Palestine, and I can be prohibited from entering at any point in the future. In this sense, Palestinian ID cards remind us that our movements and lives depend on the carefully drawn racism of the Israeli state. Its penetration of and invasion into our family histories serves to control our movement in and outside of Palestine. Wherever we were born, we will always be viewed as a demographic threat to the Israeli state. But moreover, the creation of diaspora populations with different passports, a condition so typical of any diaspora populations, has had deeply divisive effects on us. Scattered around like shattered glass, people have radically different opportunities and access to resources. These differences can produce resentment. We envy each other’s opportunities: some are able to leave, others are able to stay in our homeland, Palestine. For that reason, our hopes are always connected to what is denied to us.
Israel’s denial of mobility to Palestinians based on birthplace is to subjugate us to its internal logic and decision-making. It attempts to divide and cut Palestinian identity into fragments so tiny, it can never be put together or imagined as a whole again. In reality though, as Palestinians we are one people. And we deserve free mobility and equal rights to our homeland and heritage, regardless of what form of ID we hold.