However, since Yasir is an Israeli resident, he cannot visit Yabta without prior planning and, due to an Israeli law passed last summer, his wife who holds a West Bank identity card cannot stay with him in Jerusalem.

As a result, the Abu Mghair family lives incognito, avoiding checkpoints, hospitals and government institutions.
 
The law is the latest in a series of measures by the Israeli government, aimed at reducing the number of Palestinians living in Jerusalem.

It bars West Bank or Gaza Palestinians from obtaining residency status or family re-unification permits in Israel or occupied East Jerusalem by marriage to an Israeli citizen or city resident.

To slowly force Palestinian residents out of the city, the Israeli Ministry of Interior is increasingly using Land expropriations, identity card seizure, exorbitant taxes and difficult-to-obtain building, family reunion and residency permits.

“Our occupation is of a different kind than in the West Bank or Gaza. It has a clear strategy of annexing the land of East Jerusalem while not annexing the people, but transferring them.”

Huda al-Imam, director, 
Centre for Jerusalem Studies,
al-Quds University

This will alter the demographic balance and ultimately predetermine the future status of Jerusalem. 

“Our occupation is of a different kind than in the West Bank or Gaza,” said Huda al-Imam, director of the Centre for Jerusalem Studies at al-Quds University.

"It has a clear strategy of annexing the land of East Jerusalem while not annexing the people, but transferring them,” she added. 

According to the Israeli Human Rights group B’tselem, the development of East Jerusalem, since its illegal annexation in 1967, has been based on political considerations designed to strengthen the Israeli control over the city, by creating a decisive majority of Jews.

In 1972, the Inter-ministerial Committee to Examine the Rate of Development for Jerusalem, otherwise known as the Gafni Committee, determined that a “demographic balance of Jews and Arabs must be maintained as it was at the end of 1972”.

The ratio was set at 73.5% Jews to 26.5% Palestinians.

To this end, Israel constructed about 39,000 housing units
throughout East Jerusalem on land mainly expropriated from
Palestinians following the 1967 war, and has encouraged Jews, especially those living abroad, to settle in them. 
 
Israeli harassment

Peace activists plant olive trees
to protest Jerusalem settlements

Palestinians, who at 200,000 make up approximately 32% of the city’s total population, are not allowed to build or live on this land and obtaining a building permit for other areas in the city is a costly and lengthy process.

As a result, most are forced to rent or leave the city altogether.

Meanwhile, through the 1950 Israeli Law of Return, Jews from any part of the world are guaranteed a right to Israeli citizenship and as a result a right to live in the city.  

The irony of this situation has not escaped American Jerusalemites like Deema, who was denied a residency permit because she lives abroad.

Deema says the Israeli measures to force her out of the city are intolerable.

She recalled her encounter with two young American Jews who recently made Jerusalem their home and intended to move into the Old City.

“The irony is painful. Here are two women, both my age, who have lived their entire lives in New Jersey. They have no family in Jerusalem or Israel.

"Everything about them is American. And yet within a matter of months they were able to settle in the city with financial support and hold new Israeli passports,” Deema said.

Different laws

“There is no way I would agree to give up my rights to my home. So right now I’m waiting for a solution, before I decide to return.” 

Abu Khalid,
Palestinian expatriate

Palestinians who already possess Jerusalem identity cards are increasingly finding it difficult to maintain their residency status in Jerusalem. 

A law passed by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in the late 1990s, declared that any Palestinian who has not lived in the city for seven continuous years loses his residency rights. 

The Netanyahu law, whose time limit has since been changed to three years, does not apply to Israeli Jews. 

Palestinians expatriates, like Cleveland-based Abu Khalid, are particularly vulnerable to this law. Although he holds a Jerusalem identity card, he was unable to attend his parents’ funerals in Jerusalem a few years ago. 

Abu Khalid feared he would be forced to sign a document on his way back to the United States, forgoing his status as a Jerusalem resident and thereby his right to live in the city at any point in the future.

Such tactics are commonly employed by the Israeli Ministry of Interior to enforce the three-year law.

Israel denies family reunion
rights to Palestinians

By not returning, he can at the least guarantee his identity card will not be confiscated. On the other hand, Abu Khalid has been unable to visit his family.

It is the sort of decision that many Jerusalem residents who live abroad are forced to make to retain their residency status.

“There is no way I would agree to give up my rights to my home,” said Abu Khalid. "So right now I’m waiting for a solution, before I decide to return.” 

Restricted benefits

East Jerusalemites have a political status unique among Palestinians. They are considered neither Israeli nor Palestinian citizens, but rather “permanent residents” of East Jerusalem. 

Nevertheless, Israel requires them to pay all the taxes that ''full-fledged'' citizens of the state pay, including the municipality tax, income tax, value-added tax (VAT) and most recently, a TV tax. 

“The Jerusalem Municipality has about 40% of its income from Arabs, but spends about 5% on us”

Hisham al-Bakri,
East Jerusalem resident 

However, they do not receive equivalent benefits. The physical infrastructure of East Jerusalem is neglected and public services are poor or non-existent in many suburbs of the city.

“The Jerusalem Municipality has about 40% of its income from Arabs, but spends about 5% on us,” said East Jerusalem resident Hisham al-Bakri. 

“Residents of the old city live in a ghetto and from a social and psychological angle it affects them. The families are getting bigger; over 15 people live in something like 10 square metres or so on average.

"In addition, there are a lot of settlements in and around the old city; that provokes people and makes our lives difficult,” added Huda al-Imam.

Heavy price

While the familiar blue Jerusalem ID card is the object of envy for many West Bank and Gaza residents, who rarely get a chance to visit the Old City, it remains a mixed bag for Jerusalemites.    

"... demographic balance of Jews and Arabs must be maintained as it was at the end of 1972”

Gafni Committee, Israel

“We are paying for it with gold, more than what it's worth and West Bank residents envy us for it. But since we live in Jerusalem, we must pay the price or leave,” said al-Bakri, who was forced to sell his house and rent instead, in order to keep up with the hefty fees of the city.

“They’ll find any excuse to make you pay extra. And in the end, if you don’t pay they either imprison you or take your hawia [ID card] away.”

At the end of the day, most say their ID card is well worth the price if it means they can remain in the city their ancestors had called home for centuries.

“Of course, I will stay despite all of this. The more pressure they put on us, the more incentive we have to stay put.”