How a Document Determines Which Palestinian You Are

Dareen Khattab

March, 2008

This piece was written while the author was completing a Master of Arts degree in Peace Studies at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame.

For some, answering the question, "Where do you come from?" is a simple matter; the answer is often composed of only a couple of words, or possibly a brief sentence naming a country and perhaps a city. For me, the answer requires at least a 20- minutes speech. I start by explaining that I was born in Jerusalem, but in neither the east nor the west side of Jerusalem. I was born in Southern Jerusalem in Beit Safafa, a village that was itself divided into east and west. Living in the western side of my village gave me a particular political status in Jerusalem that only a few thousand Palestinians -- most of whom are also from my village -- share. All the rest of the Palestinians in Jerusalem hold an Israeli residency card. In fact, my status is the same as that of the Palestinian population living in Northern Israel and the Jewish Israelis. But there is a huge difference between these two groups, of course. The citizenship I hold didn't change my identity as a Palestinian, but unfortunately the wars in 1948 and 1967 led to differentiation between Palestinians depending on whether they live in Israel, in Jerusalem, in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, or in the Diaspora. We are all Palestinians at heart, but live in different realities. What shaped this diversity is simply a matter of where our grandparents lived, how they reacted to the wars, and the differences in documentation that have resulted.

To make my point and my experience clear, I need to point out the main events that shaped the situation today. The war in 1948 resulted in the disappearance of 350 villages, whose 725,000 occupants became refugees . These refugees traveled to neighboring countries, such as Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq . 500,000 internally displaced Palestinians were moved to refugee camps in what is now the West Bank (then part of Transjordan), and about 200,000 were relocated to the Gaza Strip. Only 160,000 Palestinians stayed in Israel. The war in 1967 produced another wave of 355,000 refugees, who moved mainly from the West Bank to Jordan

The refugees in the Diaspora are divided into two groups: the ones that were given full legal residency by the countries in which they settled, and the ones that were given a legal residency arrangement, but no rights. Jordan gave the Palestinians equal residency rights because Jordan had authority over the West Bank. To those who lived in the West Bank, Jordan gave Jordanian passports that could be renewed every two years. But in other cases, such as in Lebanon, Egypt, and the Gulf countries, the legal status afforded Palestinians was much more vague. Some were issued working permits, while others were given "All Palestine Government" travel documents. The main reason for this conduct by the neighboring countries can be found in UN General Assembly Resolution 194, which affirmed that the refugees have an inviolable fundamental right of return.

Israel promised to afford equal political and social rights to the 160,000 Palestinians who had stayed there and gave all of them Israeli citizenship. However, Israel created other avenues for discrimination, such as legal mechanisms to exclude the Palestinians from political, economic, or other benefits of being Israeli citizens. After the war in 1967, Jerusalem was reunited and the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem became part of Israel. As a result of the unresolved status of Jerusalem, though, Palestinian residents have no official nationality. They all have Jerusalem residency cards, which are distributed by Israel and totally conditional. They also have a special traveling document called the laissez-passer, which restricts their movement.

Israel issued different identity cards as a mechanism of categorization and exclusion. Each different group has a different color. For example, East Jerusalemites have blue identity cards that are similar to the Israelis' identity cards, but they follow a different number series and they list no nationality. Palestinians in the West Bank initially had to hold orange ID cards and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip had to carry magnetic ID cards . After the Oslo Agreements and the formation of the Palestinian Authority, the orange ID card was replaced by a green Palestinian Identity Card. Palestinians from both the West Bank and Gaza Strip that wished to work in Israel, however, also had to hold Israeli magnetic IDs.

Usually, childhood is something pure and rosy. However, I remember sensing a larger conflict when I was only three years old. The other children in my neighborhood spoke a different language from the one spoken in my family, and any interaction with them was strongly discouraged due to the fear that it would only lead to a fight. The conflict was embedded in every aspect of our daily life, even though this was before the first Intifada uprising, and before killings and shootings became daily scenes on TV.

Sensing a difference between the Israeli Jews and myself (as a Palestinian) was one thing, but sensing a difference between myself and other Palestinians was something else. As a result of the first Intifada, when I was about nine, I started noticing that my classmates from Bethlehem, those from a Palestinian city five minutes away from my village, and others from other cities in the West Bank were absent from school. The checkpoint had been established and every Palestinian holding an orange ID card was forbidden from passing into Jerusalem from the West Bank. As I grew a little bit older, my Eastern Jerusalemite classmates started referring to me as a traitor. I didn't understand why. As far as I'm concerned, my grandfather went to Israeli prisons; my uncles were shot in confrontations with Israeli soldiers; and I had to be checked daily before I was allowed to go to school. Apparently, what made me a traitor was the fact that I had been born to parents who happened to live in what later became the western part of Jerusalem, and that I therefore hold Israeli citizenship. Two main narratives exist regarding the Palestinians that stayed in Israel. The story I know is that my grandparents stayed in their homes to protect their houses, families, and lands. Palestinians in other places, however, believe that we collaborated with the Israelis by accepting Israeli citizenship. I would like to emphasize that this citizenship was imposed on Palestinians and wasn't a matter of choice.

We, the Palestinians in Israel, are between the Devil and the deep blue sea. We are not considered to be true Palestinians by the Palestinians who are not citizens of Israel, and we are considered to be totally Palestinian by the Israelis. I understand the reason behind the resentment felt by other Palestinians; we, in a way, have more rights, benefit from the modernity of Israel, and have a better quality of life, even though we still suffer from systematic discrimination in Israel.

I had a surprising experience the first time I was exposed to Palestinians living in northern Israel. I was treated as an inferior. We all share the same political status, but I was seen as the Eastern Jerusalemite, identified by my totally different lifestyle. My lifestyle was formed by my geographical location, political status, educational system, and even the traditions in which I was raised. At this stage, I felt totally lost. "Who am I?" I wondered. I am a different person depending on where I am. I am a Palestinian, an Israeli, and a Jerusalemite all together, but those identities never combine. I'm not the only one who has a problem identifying herself. Palestinians in the Diaspora face a problem as well, but each in their own community. A basic problem for them all is in the identification of the Palestinian Diaspora, because to some it might mean the acceptance of the Palestinian dispersal. The Palestinian connection to Palestine is deeply rooted. Descendants of Palestinian refugees still feel rooted to Palestine and would still identify themselves as Palestinians, even though they might never have been there. It was best described by a friend of mine once, after he was faced with the possibility that he will never be able to have a Palestinian identity or live in Palestine legally. He predicted that we would forever be "Falastenyeen imsharadeen," the "displaced Palestinians."

These differences influence the decisions that Palestinians make on a personal and individual level, such as when they choose their partners. Palestinians have different priorities. They don't choose according to personality, religion, or ethnic group, but rather according to the color of their prospective mate's ID card. Why? They want to make sure that they will be able to practice a basic tradition of marriage: living together. Many people in the past had hope that the situation would improve so that Palestinians with different statuses could reasonably marry. In the past, it was manageable. But now, with all the security measurements -- checkpoints and the separation, and the policies that forbid family reunification -- many families find themselves in impossible situations. These differences will never be erased as long as all of the solutions proposed for resolving the conflict include forms of separation, a two-state solution, no right of return, and the establishment of Jerusalem as a capital for both states with international supervision. With these policies enacted, union among the Palestinians will never be established. These divisions will continue and the daily hardships will not be overcome. I can see only one solution, where all are united and all are equal, without differences and colored ID cards, where families can live together and be able to support themselves. I wish for a one-state solution, where we are one people without labels.

[1] Kimmering, Baruch and Joel S. Migdal (2003). The Palestinian People. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 135.

[2] Ibid., 156.

[3] Mcdowell, Daviv (1998). "The Palestinians". Minority Rights Groups International, 6.

[4] Ibid., 5.

[5] Schulz, Helena Lindholm (2003). The Palestinian Diaspora: Formation of Identities and Politics of Homeland. New York: Routledge, 73.