Mahmoud is one of the many Palestinians who has spent part of his life working in America but has come back every summer to retain his residency rights in Jerusalem. But now, with the Israelis tightening the screw, he is losing the battle.
The crunch came in 2007 in an interview with an official at the Ministry of the Interior. She discovered that he had a Green Card enabling him to work in the United States and told him he could not keep his residency in Jerusalem because “you have residency out of the country”.
Mahmoud looked her in the eye and said: “I am originally from here. Where are you from?” He could tell from her accent where she came from and felt aggrieved that a Moroccan, only recently arrived in Israel, could tell him that he couldn’t live in his own country.
The immigration official looked him in the eye with just a hint of a smug smile and replied: “You are a resident. I am a citizen.”
For Mahmoud that summed up all the injustice the he and his family had suffered from since 1948. He was born in Jerusalem. He had a house in Jerusalem. Yet he faced having his residency revoked so he could only ever visit the city of his birth as a tourist.
She was born in Morocco, yet because of her Jewish ancestry she had an automatic right to full citizenship from the minute she set foot on Israeli soil.
As a citizen she would be free to work abroad for as long as she liked without losing her lifelong Israeli citizenship, but he could have his residency withdrawn because he had a Green Card and drove a school bus in Maryland even if he came back home every summer.
Add to that the injustice he feels as one of the 28 households threatened with eviction by an orthodox Jewish group who claim to have bought the freehold of their houses in the Sheikh Jarrah district of Jerusalem.
Four families have already been evicted and camped for eight months out on the pavement under the fig trees while American-Israeli settlers, machine guns slung over their shoulders, lived in their houses.
The irony is that some of the 28 families are refugees who were forced out of their homes in West Jerusalem at gunpoint by the advancing Israeli troops and are forbidden, under Israeli law, from reclaiming the property they own just a mile or two away.
The law does not apply to Israelis. They can pursue their claims in court and they have been winning, despite the fact that they have no deeds to the land in East Jerusalem. One of the families they have evicted does, however, have the deeds to his family’s former house in West Jerusalem.
Every Friday a march is held in Sheikh Jarrah to protest against the evictions. A few settlers gather on the other site of the street. Relations between the two communities are not good. “We hear them saying ‘whore’ or ‘bitch’ in Arabic and Hebrew to us from their yards. Sometimes they throw soiled nappies over the fence. It’s one of their ways of making our lives miserable,” said Mahmoud.
by Martin Linton