Uncertainty. Loss. Instability. These are the words that come to mind when I think of my life as a Palestinian.
The loss of homeland is a recent and continuing experience for us. I don’t know a single Palestinian who hasn’t mourned the loss of a home, a plot of land, a loved one, or all of the above, as a result of political circumstances. When my parents talk about the loss they have experienced since 1948, including separation from family members who have been dispersed to different corners of the world, I am overwhelmed with sadness and desperation. Almost 70 years later, Palestinians continue to experience these losses every day.
With Israel’s most recent land grab law that allows the Israeli government to expropriate private Palestinian land from the West Bank and East Jerusalem, along with President Trump’s promise to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, our hope to ever live in dignity in our own homeland diminishes by the day.
I was born and raised in East Jerusalem, which has been occupied by Israel since 1967. Israel has moved more than 200,000 Jewish settlers into the Palestinian eastern part of the city in a concerted effort to “Judaize” the area. Jerusalemites have also been cut off from their West Bank neighbors by the separation wall, and vice versa. One hundred thousand Palestinians who are originally from Jerusalem are now on the other side of the separation wall, barred from entry. Many have been separated from family members.
Despite Israel’s efforts to “unify” the city, Jerusalem remains divided. No one understands this reality better than the people who live in this contested city. Despite the fact that Israelis and Palestinians live in close proximity to one another, there is little communication between them. I personally have never socially interacted with an Israeli in my life. We live separate—and unequal—lives.
Palestinians in East Jerusalem hold fragile “permanent residency” status. This makes it sound like we are foreigners in our own country. When someone asks me about my citizenship, it sparks confusion: I am a Palestinian living in East Jerusalem with a residency permit, along with an Israeli-issued travel document and a temporary Jordanian passport. The latter says that I have Jordanian citizenship, even though I was not born in Jordan, nor is it my home.
The single biggest fear that all Palestinians from Jerusalem have in common is losing their flimsy residency rights. Since 1967, more than 14,000 Palestinians from Jerusalem have had their residencies revoked, according to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. In order to maintain their residency rights, Palestinians must prove that their “center of life” is in Jerusalem, meaning they have to pay taxes to the Israeli government, live in Jerusalem, work in Jerusalem, go to school in Jerusalem, and pay electricity and water bills to the state of Israel. Palestinians constantly live in fear of temporarily moving elsewhere, lest they lose their residency rights.
The services that Palestinian residents of Jerusalem receive in return for their taxes are not the same services that Israelis receive. In fact, even though Palestinian residents make up 37% of the city’s population, they are allocated about 10-13% of the municipal budget, leaving more than 75% of Palestinians (and 82% children) below the poverty line.
With recent political developments, there isn’t much hope for a better future for Palestinians. Decisions taken on the political level are critical in determining the fate of Palestinians and the fate of Jerusalem, a city that has political, spiritual and religious significance to many. To me, the city is simply home, it is my history, it is my family, it is the olive tree in the backyard of my childhood home. It is where my heart and soul is.