Occupied East Jerusalem – With a weary slump, Maisa Tamimi squeezed on to the living room sofa between her mother and husband.
“It has been an extremely hard time,” she said anxiously. “I could never have imagined I would lose my son and then my home.”
Keep readinglist of 4 items
In recent months, Maisa’s life has changed dramatically. In early March, her eldest son, Foaud, was shot dead in occupied East Jerusalem after shooting and wounding two Israeli police officers.
In the hours and days that followed, her husband was arrested and detained by Israeli police, while Maisa and her eldest children were interrogated. After six hours of questioning, they were driven by Israeli police to the Qalandia checkpoint and steered into the occupied West Bank at gunpoint, she said.
After 11 days, Maisa’s husband, Kasef, was released without charge.
No one in the family has been accused of any crime – but they can no longer return home, and are living in temporary accommodation, with some of Maisa’s family members at her mother’s apartment in Kufr Aqab and others at a relative’s house nearby. Kufr Aqab is located in the so-called seam zone, technically within the boundaries of East Jerusalem, but on the West Bank side of Israel’s separation wall.
“The kids come to visit us here a lot, but it is more than difficult to be split up like this from two of my children. But it’s the only choice we have right now,” Maisa told Al Jazeera.
There is no other state that acts in the same way. Israeli law is tailored to undermine Palestinians' rights and existence.
Before Fouad’s death, the Tamimi family lived in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Issawiya. Maisa holds the blue ID card that Israel gives to Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, while her husband, who was born in the West Bank, does not.
Maisa and Kasef were years into a family unification process, which would have secured full residency status for the whole family. In the meantime, Kasef and the children were on temporary permits.
In the aftermath of Fouad’s death, when Israeli authorities saw that the family’s application for unification was pending, the process was immediately frozen, and the family was forcibly transferred to the West Bank.
“We are looking for another place to live [in Kufr Aqab], but right now we can’t find a landlord who will rent to us. They know that we are the family of a martyr and they are afraid to rent to us, due to the possibility that Israel may come and demolish the house,” Maisa said.
The speed of the family’s transfer, just two days after Fouad attacked the police officers in East Jerusalem, was unprecedented, according to the family’s lawyer, Mohammed Mahmoud.
“I have never seen a case like this. Usually a family is given at least 24 to 48 hours to appeal a decision like this. But in this case, the family was thrown out immediately and were not given any time to appeal,” he told Al Jazeera, noting that this type of punishment is reserved exclusively for Palestinians and has never been used against Israelis, even when they have been found guilty of serious crimes.
“There is no other state that acts in the same way,” Mahmoud said. “Israeli law is tailored to undermine Palestinians’ rights and existence. The family cannot do anything to change the reality now that they have been thrown out of Jerusalem.”
Israeli authorities did not immediately respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment on the matter.
In March, Yisrael Katz, an Israeli member of the Knesset, submitted a bill to allow the state to deport family members of Palestinian attackers to Gaza. The bill has not been voted on yet. Israel’s attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, has previously suggested that such a policy would contravene international law.
At the same time, human rights groups say that forced transfers of Palestinians from Jerusalem have been going on for almost 50 years.
“We have three groups of people who are forced out: Those who have their ID cards withdrawn; those whose family unification applications were rejected; and those who settled in Jerusalem before 1987, when it was easy to enter the city, but who were never given ID or residency cards,” said Ziyad Hammouri, director of the Jerusalem Center for Social and Economic Rights.
Hammouri’s organisation has traced more than 14,900 cases in which Israeli identity cards were revoked from Palestinians since the occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem began.
The current policy of forced transfer amounts to a “demographic war” against Palestinians in Jerusalem, Hammouri added, referring to the Zionist policy of maintaining a Jewish population majority within Israel since 1947.
For the family of Khaled Abu Arafeh, adjusting to their new life in the occupied West Bank has been a long and painful process.
In 2006, after being appointed minister of Jerusalem affairs in the new Palestinian government, he was told by Israeli authorities to quit his new role or give up his Jerusalem residency.
Abu Arafeh refused and four years later, having spent part of that time in prison and challenging the decision in the Israeli court system, Abu Arafeh was deported to the West Bank. In court, the Israeli prosecutor argued that Abu Arafeh and the politicians’ alleged association with the Hamas movement meant that they were not loyal to the state of Israel. He now lives with his family in a suburb of al-Bireh, close to Ramallah.
“I experienced true pain when I was deported from Jerusalem,” said the father of five. “Although they still study in Jerusalem, our children have been uprooted and go through hardship living their lives. Every morning they have to cross the Qalandia checkpoint going to school and it is exhausting for them. They are not living the lives that children their age should be.”
Despite having lived away from Jerusalem for six years, Abu Arafeh still hopes that he will be able to return to his home city in the future.
“I dream about going back to Jerusalem and I cannot imagine being forced to live away from it forever. I cannot imagine not being granted a residency permit again and I tell myself to never lose the hope of returning to Jerusalem.”