When Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967 this included East Jerusalem with its historical Old City. Yet even though East Jerusalem is recognised by the international community as part of occupied Palestine, any evidence of the ‘Green Line’ (the armistice line between Israel and occupied Palestine which runs through the city) has long since been obliterated as Israel continues its expanding annexation of Palestinian land.
The Jerusalem tramline runs along what was a narrow strip of no-man’s land. There are no checkpoints between West and East Jerusalem.
Instead of the Green Line, Israel has re-drawn the lines of the Jerusalem city boundary by annexing a whole swathe of West Bank land taking in 30 Palestinian villages that were once on the periphery. The East Jerusalem city boundary moved from covering an area of three square kilometres to one of 64 square kilometres. Checkpoints from the West Bank control Palestinians coming in from outside this wider boundary.
Israelis refer to this as the “unification” of Jerusalem. In 1967, it meant access to the Jewish holy site, the Western Wall, in the Old City which had been denied to them since the founding of the state of Israel in 1948.
For Palestinians it was rather different. One of the first things the occupying administration did was a census of the people living in East Jerusalem. The census took place in July 1967, one month after the war. Those people who had fled or who were otherwise not there when the census was done were not allowed back. At a stroke, 40,000 lost their right to live in Jerusalem. Those that were left were given a special blue ID – a residency permit, not Israeli citizenship. This is similar to that issued in other countries to foreign nationals residing in their countries. However, here it is applied to people who have lived in Jerusalem for generations.
Although the blue ID is called a ‘Permanent Residency Permit’ the holder has to repeatedly prove that Jerusalem is the centre of his or her life i.e. living and working in Jerusalem. They cannot vote in general elections or stand for the Knesset (the Israeli parliament).
Jerusalemites who leave for more than seven years lose their ID. They cannot pass their ID to a spouse or children. Jerusalemites who marry a Palestinian from the West Bank cannot move their spouse to live with them. The area where Palestinians are allowed to live is restricted and now very crowded as families grow down the generations. Houses are very expensive; many are terribly overcrowded. Some Jerusalemites I have met retain a small dwelling in East Jerusalem but actually live outside the city boundary. If they are caught they will lose their IDs and their right to work in Jerusalem.
Many Jerusalemites have an ID story. Some are sad tales like a man I met whose children are not allowed back because they stayed away too long after graduating abroad. He told me if he had known they would not be allowed back he would not have sent them away to be educated. Another man, with advanced cancer, told me he is paying his lawyer $20,000 to fast-track his application so he can return to the city of his birth after living in the U.S. for many years. His lawyer ‘knows people’ and apparently needs the money for bribes. He expects to get his ID within two months. A friend of his had to wait ten years.
The annexing of East Jerusalem has huge political consequences. More and more Jewish Israelis are moving into East Jerusalem in one way or another. In the Old City, Palestinians are being displaced, their houses either being demolished or taken over by settlers. Huge new settlement complexes, reserved for Jewish Israelis only, are being established all round the Old City. It is part of a strategic plan to change the demography of East Jerusalem to achieve a Jewish majority and make access from the West Bank exceedingly difficult. It will make it impossible for Jerusalem ever to be the shared capital of a Palestinian state and removes the possibility of a two-state solution.