Jerusalem: Where the occupier demands loyalty from the occupied

Israel’s new ‘breach of loyalty’ bill is yet another sinister attempt to erase the Palestinian identity from Palestine.

Palestine flag
A Palestinian protester tries to hammer a hole through the Israeli barrier that separates the West Bank town of Abu Dis from Jerusalem, as others wave Palestinian flags in 2015 [Ammar Awad/Reuters]

Last Wednesday, Palestinians in Jerusalem were hit with yet another travesty. The Israeli parliament ratified a bill that allows the minister of interior to revoke the residency rights of any Palestinian who poses a threat to Israel, or, more specifically, is suspected of a “breach of loyalty” to Israel.

Palestinians in Jerusalem do not possess Israeli citizenship or Palestinian passports. They are in a perpetual limbo state with a mere permanent residency card and temporary Jordanian passports for travel purposes. Between the years of 1967 and 2016, Israel has revoked the status of more than 14,500 Palestinian Jerusalemites, despite them having lived there for generations, since before the establishment of the Israeli state. 

The new bill, which is a visible consequence of Israel’s being emboldened to take over Jerusalem after Trump recognised the city as the undivided capital of Israel, is not only an attack on the Palestinians of Jerusalem but implicitly acts to further attack Palestinian identity. 

Legalising the Nakba of Jerusalem 

The ongoing colonisation of Palestine does not stop at the displacement of the population. It is also an act to completely erase any sense of Palestine in the land and replace it with an entirely new character.

This became more palpable to me when I, a West Bank ID holder, am permitted by Israel the rare access to visit Jerusalem and other cities in historical Palestine such as Haifa, Jaffa and Acre. I always return to Ramallah with a strained mind. The overriding sensation of being a foreign intruder in my ancestral land is a notion that makes it all the more difficult to view peace in the Israeli framework. 

During the attacks of 1948, Zionist militia would physically and violently remove Palestinians from their homes. Following a similar endeavor, what we are witnessing today is another attack, this time through a less bloody and quieter method: the law. The bill will further accelerate the dispossession of Palestinians from the city through a legal framework that will again forcibly transfer the Palestinian population. It is, in effect, ethnic cleansing by bureaucracy. 

You realise that the idea of “peace” for Israel only means that we, Palestinians, are not allowed to live freely as Palestinians, but instead as background noise. This is especially overarching when I visit Yaffa, the city my grandfather grew up in and was forced to flee in 1948. The horrifying erasure of any distinguishing elements of Palestinianism in such cities is acute. Consequently, the Arabic language is stigmatised, our cuisine is now appropriated as Israeli culture, and the label is not even Palestinian but “Israeli Arab”. What remains are fragments of old homes and fleeting chronicles of a generation slowly dying away, taking with them the Palestine that stretched from the river to the sea.

Despite all this, the fact that Israel is an occupying power is being missed in the discussions about Palestine and Palestinians. No population in its right mind would voluntarily acquiesce to its perpetrator, and they should not be expected to. With this in mind, any act by Palestinians to not abide by Israeli rule and denounce Israeli measures against them is considered a “breach of loyalty” to Israel. It was even deemed illegal by Israel to carry the Palestinian flag at some point.

The latest bill is not a defensive measure by Israel, rather another strategy to suppress Palestinian defiance to the colonisation of their cities.

There is no way whereby the occupied can be loyal to their occupiers, a fact the Israeli state is well aware of and is manipulating to use as a reason to further take over and colonise what remains of Jerusalem and its Palestinianism. 

Killing the Palestinian

The less obvious effect concealed within the contours of the bill is even more alarming. To top the tangible consequences of revocation of rights from Palestinians, we can also witness a slow killing of Palestinian identity in Jerusalem, through inflicting this fear of being stripped of residency.

This bill and other recent endeavours by Israel are reminiscent of the ambitions of American captain Richard H Pratt regarding Indigenous Americans when he noted: “kill the Indian in him, and save the man.”

Jerusalem is one of the only places outside the West Bank and Gaza that still visibly clutches on to its Palestinian identity. The old city bustles with the sound of old men and women trying to sell their goods in Arabic; there is still a sense of pride in our Arabness and Palestinianess. Unlike Haifa, Galilee and other cities that were so violently taken over, where even uttering the word Palestine is now some sort of a revolutionary act. This is the by-product of Israel enforcing more than 50 discriminatory laws against Palestinians with Israeli citizenship. This is the malfeasance of Israeli policy, pushing our identities into the corners of our homes in hopes of turning them into mere whispers among trusted friends.

Once more, the newest bill is essentially tasking Palestinians with the illusion of having to make a choice. To either defy these oppressive measures and risk losing their residency and what little rights they may have, or to submit to Israeli rule and forfeit their Palestinianism, assimilating only to be afforded the chance to continue living in this limbo state as foreign visitors in their own city. Neither options serve the Palestinian; it’s either an undignified life of forced assimilation or a cycle of humiliation, dispossession and human rights violations.

Our liberation is not when we gain “equal rights” it is when we are able to roam freely with our heads held high and our voices loud, unapologetically announcing that we are Palestinian without a need to show any “loyalty” to our occupier.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.