Over twenty years ago, my father drove my mother 10 miles from a small town called Deir Debwan near Ramallah to a hospital in Jerusalem. My mother's doctor was based there, and I was born on a rainy day with few problems. Well, except being given the same first and last name. But that's a different story.
Today, my father would have to drive 40 minutes through four different towns to reach Ramallah, which is 4 miles away. Jerusalem is impossible to reach. Huge boulders now block the road my dad took twenty years ago. The Israeli army has also installed gates at entrances on the main road to Ramallah -- since those roads are exclusively reserved for Israeli settlers living in illegal settlements dotting the West Bank.
Earlier this week, I heard that the Israeli internal minister dispatched hundreds of police officers to Arab areas near Jerusalem to suppress any attempts to hold events in East Jerusalem to mark its designation as the "the capital of Arab culture."
Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1967. Israel's government confirmed the annexation of East Jerusalem with West Jerusalem as an "eternal and undivided capital of Israel."
Since then, Israel has utilized demographic trends to draw municipal lines around Jewish areas. After it was annexed, "permanent residency" status was given to the Arab residents of Jerusalem, with blue ID cards they must carry. This continues today despite being in violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions.
Israeli human rights group B'Tselem explains:
Israel treats Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem as immigrants who live in their homes at the beneficence of the authorities and not by right. The authorities maintain this policy although these Palestinians were born in Jerusalem, lived in the city, and have no other home. Treating these Palestinians as foreigners who entered Israel is astonishing, since it was Israel that entered East Jerusalem in 1967.
According to the World Bank, recorded building violations were four and a half times higher in Jewish areas, but demolitions of Palestinian homes were ordered four times as much.
Israel actively limits Arab construction in Jerusalem and promotes Jewish construction. Last month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly criticized Israeli plans to demolish homes in East Jerusalem belonging to Palestinians. The US administration has argued that such destruction is a violation of the road map, and complicates the peace process.
Construction permits for Palestinians in Jerusalem are virtually impossible to obtain. Demolished areas, such as plans to demolish homes in the Palestinian area of Silwan, are used to develop parks and public areas. A "Museum of Tolerance," that emphasizes tolerance between various Jewish groups (and not between Jews and Arabs), is currently being constructed on an ancient Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem.
As if this wasn't enough, the Israeli separation barrier is built on private Palestinian land and separates East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank. This is Israel's way of ensuring that Palestinians are kept out of Jerusalem. The construction of the wall annexes areas around Israeli settlements, including Ma'ale Adumim, Giv'at Ze'ev, the Gosh Etzion settlement bloc and Bitar Elite.
The blue ID card Jerusalem residents receive can be revoked by Israel at any time. Palestinian Jerusalem residents are not allowed to have Israeli or Palestinian passports, and if they live outside of the country for more than three years, will lose Jerusalem residency. Israel is attempting to redraw the borders and demographics of Jerusalem by unilaterally establishing facts on the ground.
Palestinians in Jerusalem were prevented this weekend from celebrating their culture. Young men were not allowed near al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, for fear they would celebrate. As a symbolic move, children at a Jerusalem school released a hundred balloons in the color of the Palestinian flag into the air.
There is hope. No country in the world recognizes Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem, and thus there are no foreign embassies based anywhere in Jerusalem. The Palestinian people have shown their steadfastness throughout the past 60 years, and on the grand scale of things, blocking a cultural festival is now simply expected.
The Jerusalem where my father once ran a restaurant and the Jerusalem where I was born no longer exists. One day, like millions of Palestinian Muslims and Christians, I hope to be allowed to enter Jerusalem. To walk sown Salah al-Din street. To buy fresh ka'ak. Today, the smell of za'atar, kinafa, and Turkish coffee filling the bustling markets is being replaced by rows of empty houses covered in political graffiti. Israeli settlements (twelve in East Jerusalem) continue to encroach the city.
The holiest place on earth is being turned into a city exclusively for one religion, trumping the rights of Palestinian Christians and Muslims. In a recent interview with the New York Times, the mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat is quoted as saying:
Jerusalem is a laboratory. If we succeed in solving the conflict with the Arabs of Jerusalem, it will also be possible to solve it everywhere in Israel.
Let's hope that the "solution" to the conflict is not one of population transfer, and the dominance of one religious group over others through establishing facts on the ground.