Enemies and Beach-Goers

Alaa Saffouri

All Arabs living in Jerusalem are told that they are proud Palestinians. In geography classes, they study the map of historic Palestine. In art classes, they embrace the colours of the Palestinian flag. Al Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock are symbols of their cultural heritage and values. The ancient Arabic names for the gates in the Jerusalem wall are engraved in their minds. Two primary colors dominate the dynamics of a Jerusalemite Arab’s identity: blue and green. In general, a blue ID card means that you can get to see the beach and a green one means you are hostile and a threat to the ‘state’.

In 1967, after East Jerusalem became part of ‘Israel’, a Jerusalemite Arab was defined both as a Jordanian national and as an Israeli citizen. In other words, Palestinians in East Jerusalem were given Israeli citizenship cards and allowed to hold Jordanian passports at the same time. Nowadays, Arabs from East Jerusalem holding blue ID cards (Israeli citizenship) are not given the right to carry a Palestinian passport by the Palestinian Authority. But the Israeli government now offers citizens of Jerusalem a temporary passport/travel document that refers to its holder as Jordanian and the Israelis grant Israeli passports to Arabs in Jerusalem if they apply for them.

This confusion is uniquely absurd. As a blue ID holder (access to the beaches), I was always in conflict with my Palestinian side. I was numb for several years before I understood the connections between my land, my people, and my own situation. When the time came to travel, my life became drastically complicated. I found myself naturally wanting a Palestinian passport, but I was shocked to learn that I was not allowed to have it. On the one hand, my father has a Jordanian passport, which I was also entitled to, provided I could get to Jordan – on a temporary Israeli travel visa – and complete the paperwork in Amman. On the other, I couldn’t qualify unless my mother, too, had a Jordanian passport. But she didn’t. So the trip to Jordan would mean paperwork on my mother’s passport as well as mine.

Once I had it all figured out, I discovered that my mother’s name is misspelled on her birth certificate – a vital error that needed correcting in order for me to claim my Jordanian passport. My mother was born with a green ID card (enemy! No beaches!), then married my father who was able to get her a blue ID card (beaches!) in accordance with Israeli law at the time. But it turns out that it’s horribly difficult to change an old birth certificate issued under the Israeli Judea and Samaria Civil Administration before the 1990s. It didn’t help that my mother had switched from green to blue, i.e. from a Jordanian/Palestinian ID to an Israeli ID, because – wait for it – the responsibility to amend the error on the birth certificate had migrated from Israel to the Palestinian Authority. My mother became very disheartened and asked me to forget about it. But it’s hard to convince a 22-year-old she can’t travel and see the world. The only way left for me was to accept a temporary Israeli travel document. And that’s who I am when I try to travel.

In East Jerusalem, with its layered framework of coercive policies and flawed rules, we have to settle for makeshift solutions. But I’m haunted by the difference between the person I know myself to be and the identity I’ve had to adopt.


  • 28 May 2014 at 8:54pm
    stettiner says:
    A part of "Israel"?