The New Arab Logo

Breaking News
Citizens not residents: A home run for Jerusalem-born Palestinians Open in fullscreen

Daoud Kuttab

Citizens not residents: A home run for Jerusalem-born Palestinians

Israel has withdrawn residency from some 14,000 Jerusalem-born Palestinians [Getty]

Date of publication: 28 March, 2017

Share this page:
  • 0

  • twitter
Comment: For Daoud Kuttab and his family, Israel's ruling that restores residency rights to Jerusalem-born Palestinians who have been living outside the city, is a positive, if long overdue decision.

The latest Israeli High Court decision that dealt a strong blow to years of Israeli discrimination against Palestinian Jerusalemites, is very personal to me.

In a unanimous decision on March 16th, Israel's High Court ruled in favour of restoring the residency rights to a Palestinian man, born in present day occupied East Jerusalem who had lived outside of Jerusalem for over a dozen years.

The ruling sets a precedent for residency rights of Palestinian Jerusalemites, who for decades have had their residencies revoked for living outside of Jerusalem.

In its judgement the court ruled that Palestinians born in Jerusalem are not mere residents but what the judges referred to as "native-born residents". 

I am a Palestinian born in Jerusalem, yet for the 61 years of my life, I have had to regularly prove my direct connection to the holy city in order to not lose my birthright.

The twisted Israeli Interior Ministry policy treats Palestinians born in Jerusalem as mere residents; not citizens. Their right to live in the city in which they, and their parents and grandparents were born, can be revoked on the mere grounds of being unable to continuously prove that the "centre of your life" is in Jerusalem. 

The court ruled that Palestinians born in Jerusalem are not mere residents but what the judges referred to as 'native-born residents'

For me, this has meant having to constantly rent, and pay local "arnona" taxes in an East Jerusalem home, and travel regularly to the city, just to prove the centrality of Jerusalem to my life.

It meant that my daughter, who married a young man from nearby Bethlehem, conducted two weddings - one in the West Bank city and one in Jerusalem just so as to keep that connection to Jerusalem. 

She and my other children have to check in on the Jerusalem home regularly so as to not suddenly find that they no longer have the right to come to the city.

Israel has withdrawn residency from some 14,000 Jerusalem-born Palestinians, simply because they happened to have stayed away for an extended period, even if they were only in nearby Bethlehem and Ramallah.

We didn't come to a country and seek residency there, Israel and its military occupation came to us

Among those thousands are two of my brothers-in-law, who have left to study and work in the Arab world. Their loss of residency means that whenever they wish to come to Jerusalem, they must apply for a visa, which, if granted only permits a short stay as 'tourists' in the city in which they were born.

But this ruling is personal for another reason. The decision reverses a 1987 ruling by the Israeli High Court - just prior to the first intifada - against Palestinian-American nonviolence activist, Mubarak Awad.

Mubarak is my cousin. His father died during the 1948 war and my aunt Huda, his mother, raised six young children. We grew up together. 

Mubarak Awad, born in Jerusalem in 1943, was five when his father was killed. He and his family lived in Jerusalem but in the 1970s he left for the US to study and work. In 1983 he returned to establish the Palestinian Center for the Study of Nonviolence.

The Israeli government decided to deport him, and the Israeli High court upheld the deportation order stating that Jerusalemites rights are based on the "Entry to Israel Law of 1955" and are valid so long as the person is living in the city. Palestinians, no matter how deep their roots in the city, were effectively treated as foreigners seeking to immigrate to Israel.

The High Court ruling brings a small sliver of respect back to Jerusalemites like our family

Since then, Israeli officials of the Interior Ministry have used this court ruling to deny the rights of so many Jerusalemites, treating their rights to the city exactly as they treat other foreigners who receive temporary residency.

The latest High Court ruling finally removes the discriminatory legal precedent of the Mubarak Awad case, though it is too early to tell if it will become a positive precedent for respecting the rights of Palestinians in Jerusalem.

Residency laws are usually applied to individuals coming to a particular city for work. But in the case of 330,000 Palestinians of Jerusalem today the situation is reversed.

We didn't come to a country and seek residency there, Israel and its military occupation came to us, and has established its rule and laws with little respect for the people who were living in Jerusalem when they arrived.

The High Court ruling brings a small sliver of respect back to Jerusalemites like our family. For us, the ruling is a personal one, because we are not tourists, but rightful owners in our beloved Jerusalem.

Daoud Kuttab is an award-winning Palestinian journalist and former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University.

Follow him on Twitter: @daoudkuttab


Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

The New ArabComments

Most Popular

Most Popular

    Read More