US issues first Israel birthplace passport to Jerusalem-born teen

Palestinians have condemned the Trump administration’s policy change as a violation of international law.

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman presents Menachem Zivotofsky, a US citizen who was born in Jerusalem, a passport that lists Israel as his birthplace [Debbie Hill/Pool via Reuters]

The United States has issued the first passport to a Jerusalem-born American that lists Israel as the place of birth, a policy change by Donald Trump that has been condemned by Palestinians but will likely please the US president’s pro-Israel base ahead of next week’s elections.

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman on Friday presented the passport to 18-year-old Menachem Zivotofsky.

“You have a nation of birth – the State of Israel,” Friedman told the teenager, thanking Trump for having “set this course in motion”.

Trump has taken a staunchly pro-Israel position since coming into office, recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017 and moving the US embassy to the city a year later despite protests from Palestinians and human rights groups.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, on Friday slammed the US’s passport policy change as a violation of international law and international resolutions.

“Attempts by Trump to impose facts on the ground in a race against time ahead of the US election will not alter the reality,” Abu Rudeineh told the Reuters news agency.

Palestinian Jihad Shawamrah stands on ruins of his house that he demolished in East Jerusalem
Palestinians and human rights groups have accused Israel of carrying out a ‘Judaisation’ policy in East Jerusalem that includes the widespread demolition of Palestinian homes [File: Ammar Awad/Reuters]

The status of Jerusalem, which contains sites holy to Muslims, Jews and Christians, is among the most contentious issues in the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

Israel captured the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in the 1967 Middle East war and continues to occupy those Palestinian territories.

The Palestinian Authority wants East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Palestinian rights groups and international observers have long decried Israel’s campaign of “Judaisation” in the city, including the construction of Jewish settlements and the demolition of Palestinian homes.

Attempts by Trump to impose facts on the ground in a race against time ahead of the US election will not alter the reality

by Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas

Since Israel was founded in 1948, successive US governments declined to recognise any country as having sovereignty over Jerusalem and the US State Department’s policy previously was to list only the city as the birthplace on passports.

On Thursday, reflecting the Trump administration’s recent policies on Jerusalem, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the passport change.

Americans born in Jerusalem can now list either Jerusalem or Israel as their birthplace, an embassy official confirmed.

Zivotofsky’s parents had long campaigned for such a change, having filed a lawsuit in 2003 in a US federal court.

In 2015, the US Supreme Court struck down a law that would have allowed Jerusalem-born US citizens to list Israel as their country of birth, saying it unlawfully encroached on presidential powers to set foreign policy.

The administration of Trump’s predecessor, President Barack Obama, argued that if the law were enforced it would cause “irreversible damage” to the US’s ability to influence the Middle East peace process. Negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians broke down in 2014.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies