The curse of a blue ID. Report 8, June 2005.

Since the Palestinian Authority arrived in the Territories in the early 1990s, Palestinians living inside the West Bank and Gaza were given new identification cards, nicely tucked in green or orange covers. One is not allowed to remove the cover, since the color is there to help Israeli police and/or soldiers tell right away whether a person is Palestinian or Israeli.

Israeli citizens hold blue ID cards; as do Palestinians who live within the State of Israel. Many people outside the two countries get confused about this, and the modern concept of a nation-state and its boundaries hasn’t managed to do away with this confusion, but only added to it. As with many issues to do with Palestinians and Israelis, one always has to give a little historical context, and most often it dates to 1948. To understand the dilemma of blue ID cards, we have to venture back to 1948 as well. When the State of Israel was (illegally by the way) founded in May 1948, many (hundreds of thousands) Palestinians were forced to flee – some to other countries such as Lebanon and Syria, others to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. But some stayed behind, and in the 1950s gained Israeli citizenship – although with limitations. In 1967, when the State of Israel expanded and took over Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza (illegally again), more Palestinians fled. Israel annexed Jerusalem (illegally of course) as its de-facto capital city (which most of the international community does not recognize), and its Arab (Palestinian) residents became the subjects of Israel. It is ambiguous as to whether these Arab/Palestinian residents of Israel (not to be confused with Jews of Arab origins, which make up the majority of the Israeli/Jewish population) were ever really given a choice about becoming Israeli citizens (i.e. adopt an Israeli passport), but they were certainly given blue ID cards. While both Jewish and non-Jewish blue-ID card holders are deemed citizens of Israel, under “nationality” one is denoted as either “Jewish” or “other,” so that Palestinians inside Israel, whether Muslim or Christian, are not quite equal citizens to begin with.

Blue ID cards may seem like a good thing to have, because it means one is a citizen of a “democratic” state. It gives one the option to get an Israeli passport and travel to many parts of the world without the need to apply for a visa. Heck, I imagine, an Israeli passport is greeted with a red carpet in the U.S. But for many Palestinians, having a blue ID card is a curse, inside Israel, inside the Territories, and across the Arab world. Save for Egypt, Jordan and Qatar which have “peaceful” relations with Israel, no other Arab nation recognizes the right of Israel to exist. Certainly an amount of racism and anti-Semitism is at the heart of this, but the reasons are mainly political. This means that a Palestinian with a blue ID card is not allowed to visit his family which may very well have fled to Syria years ago; nor can he go to Kuwait for business or to Dubai for pleasure (while it is no secret that many Jewish-Israeli businessmen are able to travel to the Gulf on passports from their “original” countries, such as Poland, France, the U.S, etc.). Arabs from other countries seldom understand how a Palestinian can hold an Israeli passport and treat that person with much suspicion, oblivious to the historical factors that created such an unwilling citizen.

Palestinians inside the Territories are much more familiar with their brethren who hold blue ID cards, and every once in a while I overhear someone at a checkpoint making a remark about wishing his orange ID card would turn into a blue one (come to think of it, I met an Israeli peacenik who wanted to pay me five dollars to get him an orange ID cover, thinking it would be cool – as well as illegal – to show his allegiance next time he’s stopped for speeding). There is some animosity between the two kinds of Palestinians. Those inside the Territories look at their Israeli counterparts with contempt at not having suffered the same fate, having it easier, being able to live in their original homes, and supposedly benefiting from the riches of Israel. But those inside Israel also look at those inside the Territories – and certainly the refugees beyond the Territories – with contempt. They see themselves as having stuck it out against Israel, not having fled in either 1948 or 1967 or at any other time. They were forbidden to learn about their own history, instead going to Israeli-run public schools where they learned Hebrew and were taught that 1948 was a good year, not a catastrophic one – many of a certain generation are now admitting the confusion they faced when their parents’ stories didn’t quite jive with what they were learning at school. And they’ve suffered too, only no one ever mentions this, as it would tarnish the image of the democratic, westernized, modernized Israeli state. And in our sick mentality of measuring atrocities against each other, what the Palestinians inside Israel have had to endure hasn’t seem “as bad” as what others have had to go through – as if one’s suffering has to be extreme to be recognized as wrong in the first place.

But the holders of blue ID cards suffer most inside their own “country.” Not quite fully equal citizens, not quite welcomed, not quite excluded. They pay taxes, and a lot of them at that. But get almost no social services for the taxes they pay – garbage collection leaves a lot to be desired in Arab towns inside Israel; not to mention road paving, electricity, water, postal service and the educational system. Arab towns inside Israel, much like Arab parts of Jerusalem suffer from an obvious lack of resources and investment, as if no government is there at all to take care of things.

In fact, Palestinians in Jerusalem and its suburbs probably have it worst – because of the symbolic, political and economic importance of Jerusalem to Israel. So when the current talk of the wall around Jerusalem is being written about in the world’s papers, is it these Palestinians that are being affected the most. Those inside the West Bank or Gaza seldom are allowed to venture that close to Israel’s official (illegal, remember and still not internationally recognized) borders. So when 55,000 or 100,000 Palestinians are going to be adversely affected by the completion of the wall around Jerusalem (depending on whose accounts, and both sides are prone to exaggerate), one has to keep in mind that these are citizens of Israel that the Israeli state is mis-treating. Yes, that democratic, modernized, western state doesn’t treat all of its citizens equally. Let me give you some examples…

If a Palestinian with a blue ID card leaves Israel (whether that means into the West Bank or to Europe) for more than three years, she automatically loses her citizenship, and will have to apply for a visa (on her new citizenship presumably) to enter Israel again (needless to say if this person made the mistake of “immigrating” to the Palestinian Territories, chances of setting foot in Israel again are slim to none). If a Palestinian with a blue ID card who is a native of Jerusalem gets married to another native, has a child, and decides its time to move out of the family home and get a place for his new and growing family, chances are he won’t find a place around Jerusalem to buy. First, no new housing has been permitted more or less since 1967 in Arab neighborhoods, and second, no self-respecting Jew would sell a house to an Arab in Western parts of Jerusalem. While Jerusalem may be the fastest growing in Israel in terms of population and housing growth, that seems to misleadingly take into account the phenomenal growth of settlements like Maale Adumim or Pisgat Ze’ev or Neve Ya’acov (yes, those are illegal too), which Palestinians (those with blue ID cards) are not allowed to move into – not that they’d want to, mind you. If you happen to live on the outskirts of East Jerusalem, probably because you were born there (‘cause why would you move there?), you have to pay Israeli tax rates, but you shouldn’t expect the same level of service as West Jerusalem. The postal service is known to be spotty; so if you’re waiting for important legal papers, it’s likely you may never get them. Tax returns, immigration papers, acceptance letters, court subpoenas, love letters, many of these seem to go “missing in action” if their destination is Shuafat, Beit Hanina or Issawiya. If you were supposed to show up in court and you didn’t, because you never got the letter, because the postal service discriminates against Arab parts of town, you may end up in jail – and of course it’s your fault. It’s the same level of minimal service when it comes to funding, fixing, maintaining water pipes, buildings, roads, sidewalks, street lamps, hospitals, schools, public transportation, or architectural treasures (especially in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City).

So if you’re a Palestinian with a blue ID card most likely you’re living in a town your forefathers called home, but which hasn’t seen any renovations since your great-grandparents’ generation. You pay exorbitant taxes and prices for all goods and services because you live in a democratic, modernized state, but your postal service discriminates against you and you can’t flush your toilet as often as the immigrants who got a cheap mortgage on their home in that shiny new settlement smack in the middle of the West Bank. You were taught the Israeli version of history in public school and made to speak Hebrew, but you were made to feel unwelcomed, as if you were a temporary (and barbaric) visitor in your own home. And one day you see your next of kin throwing rocks in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and you wondered how come you weren’t too, and so you did. And soon enough you started thinking that perhaps moving to the West Bank is a better alternative than living in Israel; at least you’d suffer with your people, on equal terms, not as some letter status citizen without full rights. And some have – moved to the West Bank. Others have moved abroad and forfeited their right to an Israeli passport after three years away. Many Palestinians without blue ID cards attack and curse those with blue ID cards for leaving, for giving up their rights, for fleeing their homes yet again, not holding up the struggle “on the inside”; seldom understanding that often they feel they have no choice but to leave. Others are still there, watching the wall close in around them and wonder how much longer they will be able to live in their homeland that’s all but disappeared. And the ultra-Orthodox Jewish mayor of Jerusalem claims that there is no policy to kick Palestinians out of Jerusalem…


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