by Noor Gaith
#851594721: This is my Israeli-issued, Palestinian Authority ID number, a number that allows me to live in the West Bank, but denies me entrance to Jerusalem. For years, my American passport enabled me to enter Jerusalem to visit my maternal side, but last summer, I was forced to register under my father’s West Bank ID card. Since the year 2000, Israel has superimposed its restrictions on Palestinians from the West Bank who desire to enter Al-Quds (Jerusalem), Nazareth and other historical Palestinian cities.
In 1997, my father moved my family from California to Palestine. We lived in the West Bank city of Al-Khalil (Hebron) and the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City for two years. My father had registered me with the newly created Palestinian Authority, optimistic that the process begun by the Oslo Accords would lead to greater freedom and stability for our family. Little did he know that this innocent act would later bar his children from returning to their Jerusalem home.
American Status in Palestine:
From 2000 to 2011, I was able to freely enter Jerusalem, since my American Passport provided an Israeli approved visa. Although I was in my homeland and exercising my right to access the Palestinian cultural and spiritual capital, I always felt guilty of my mobility, which all my cousins on my father’s side were denied. From San Francisco to Tel-Aviv, I crossed thousands of miles and bodies of oceans with the right to move freely in Jerusalem and to visit my maternal grandfather’s home—the one I grew up in. On the other hand, my paternal cousins just 10 miles south of Jerusalem in the West Bank couldn’t even remember Jerusalem’s aroma of fresh bread and turkish coffee. Jerusalem was king. Jerusalem was freedom. Jerusalem was inconceivable...
As of the summer of 2011, I am now considered a Palestinian resident of the West Bank, a status that somehow supersedes my U.S. citizenship/California birthplace and its contradictory power to granting me access to Jerusalem. While traveling there had never been easy—with airport inquisitions always lasting at least four hours upon arriving at Tel Aviv—I was always able to enter, eventually. Nowadays, I am denied entry into Israel (including illegally annexed East Jerusalem). Now, to enter Palestine—or, part of it, at least—I fly into Amman, Jordan and begin the excruciating process of dealing with Jordanian, Israeli and media-made, puppet Palestinian soldiers on my way to Al-Khalil.
Palestinian Status in Palestine:
That summer, everything changed. As an American-born Palestinian who unwillingly funds the apartheid state of Israel, I am now pinned to my father’s green ID card and not my mother’s much-desired blue—the color of privilege for Israeli Jews and even some Palestinians—Jerusalem ID card. There are no civilian airports within the West Bank, and the nearest airport is Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion, which I am not allowed to use. The Israeli government requires my brothers and I to fly to Amman, Jordan and enter first through the King Hussein bridge then get transferred via the Allenby Bridge border crossing, located near Areeha (Jericho) in the West Bank.
As I sat there trying to analyze my new situation, I feared I would never return to the Old City thanks to #851594721. Between thoughts of exile and disillusionment, I decided to let my new legal status sink in.
The Colors of Israeli Apartheid:
Israeli settlers amount to about half a million living illegally in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. They carry blue-colored identification cards and drive yellow-plated cars, while West Bank ID cards are green and plates are white. Besides the fact that these settlers enjoy armed protection and the Israeli army caters to their every need, they are sometimes either secluded in their gated compounds topping a Palestinian village or, like in downtown Al-Khalil, they willfully force out Palestinian natives from their homes to create new ones.
‘Israeli Civil Law’ is applied to my Israeli-settler neighborhood. The Israeli police is in charge of dealing with their civil issues. As for the Palestinians, ‘Israeli Military Law’ is applied to me, and the military deals with any civil issues pertaining to my life. It is massively frustrating to witness the sheer division of laws and rules for each specific set of peoples. Two different groups of people, who live on the same land and breathe the same air, are governed by two different bodies of legal systems, hence the color-coded ID cards and license plates. Besides all this, Israeli settlers are allowed to enter any part of the West Bank or present day ‘Israel’, while I can’t. Even in downtown Al-Khalil, there are certain roads which are exclusive to Israeli settlers.
These methods of segregation are in fact similar to the ‘Pass Laws’ that crippled South African Blacks during South African Apartheid. The Pass Laws were a form of internal passport system designated to segregate the population and severely limit the movement of the Black African population. Fortunately, this ended in 1986 for South Africans. For West Bank Palestinians, this was not the case, and it persists till this day.
Subsequently, I find it extremely ironic that Jews throughout Nazi-occupied Germany were forced to wear a badge in the form of a Yellow Star as a means of identification, intended to humiliate Jews and to mark them more easily for segregation and discrimination purposes. Now, Palestinians have to carry a similar means of identification, which not only severely limits mobility and access, but also social status by other Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and citizens of ‘Israel.’
Trespassing in my own Territory:
The sun had not risen yet and the sky was dark when my brothers and I began our risky expedition. By the time the sun rose, we planned to be 15 miles away, kneeling in prayer at Jerusalem’s centuries-old Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest Muslim shrine. Since we didn’t have permission from the Israeli government to enter, we were forced to smuggle our way in, dodging army checkpoints, undercover special forces, and relentless patrols. To do so, my brothers and I knew that we would need to blend in—which was no problem for us given our privileged light skintones. We each wore a pair of multi-colored, sporty Nike Air Max 90s. I looked and acted American, and though I speak Arabic, it was easy to mask it under my Californian-English dialect.
We proceeded to the Azariyeh (Bethany), a neighboring city amongst one of the largest and stringent checkpoints of Israel. We met with our coyote, Rami —exploiting his Israeli ID—who corralled us and several others into his nimble 4-cylinder Ford Focus hatchback. Because he was taking on a risky operation, we paid him 300 shekel before departing, and then we briefly parted ways for 15 minutes. Sidestepping barbed wire fences, my brothers and I found a loophole and jumped through an unfinished part of the barrier. We reconnected with the Rami and frantically hurdled in the Ford Focus. At last, we were in the city we lived in for two years, my mother’s hometown. As an immensely privileged American whose tax dollars were footing part of Israel's discriminatory laws, it was almost laughable that I was sneaking into my parents’ home country.
Dawn was approaching when we reached the Old City of Jerusalem. As we entered Bab il-Amoud, I imagined the path we were walking on was familiar to the high levels of traffic of Muslims, Jews, and Christians that visited it daily. I skated the sole of my shoe across the antiquated, natural, smooth stone rock steps. We were first in line for fresh kaa’k and shai; our grandmother prepared for us scrambled eggs, a diced cucumber and tomato salad, gibneh, and black tea topped with fresh mint leaves. We bought fresh kaa’k bread rings sprinkled with sesame seeds from vendors on the street who balanced the tray of loaves on their heads.
The city began to fill as the muʾadhin made the call to jum’a prayer, which reverberated from the minaret. Exhausted and grateful, we got dressed and proceeded through the Muslim Quarter to go make prayer in Al-Aqsa. Since we stifled our Palestinian identities and ID cards, we were seen as ‘visiting Americans to the Holy Land.’ For once, our American passports proposed an advantage, as they granted us entrance into Al-Aqsa—the surreal, ineffable experience then began. We made wudu and removed our shoes before entering one of the holiest sites of Islam in the Old City of Jerusalem. My eyes gazed attentively as the familiar, octagon-shaped, gleaming Dome of the Rock stood in front of me, adorned in ancient white Arabic Islamic inscriptions and a brilliant gold raiment. I was truly grateful to be able to pray with my brothers in Al-Aqsa, which encloses the same cave that stands above the rock where Prophet Muhammad (saw) once received revelations from the Angel Gabriel.
Even #851594721 couldn’t stop me from returning home.
Long Live the Resistance عاشت المقاومة
1. Qubbat Al-Sakhrah (Dome of the Rock) located in the Old City of Jerusalem.
2. Noor and his brothers in front of Qubbat Al-Sakhrah after entering Jerusalem illegally.
3. The wudu station located outside of the Qubba.
4. Noor and his brothers walking through the Old City after risking their lives to enter.
Photos 2-4 courtesy of Noor
shekel - Palestinian/Israeli currency
Bab il-Amoud - Damascus Gate, the main entrance into the Old City
kaa’k - fresh Jerusalem bread rings, sprinkled with sesame seeds
shai - black Arabic tea
gibneh - white Arabic cheese
muʾadhin - person who makes the call to prayer
jum’a - congregational prayer Muslims perform every Friday
minaret - tower from which the call to prayer is made
wudu - washing performed before prayer