One City, Two Peoples, Double Standards
The people of Jerusalem, the city of peace live in two disparate worlds.
by George Martin
Maher Turjman had a most unusual dream. Maher, Projects Manager for CNEWAs Pontifical Mission office in Jerusalem, dreamed that he registered his marriage at the Israeli Ministry of the Interior in East Jerusalem without difficulty. Trying to get just about anything done in Jerusalem is a challenge, whether you are an Israeli or a Palestinian. But it is always more difficult if you are a Palestinian.
One morning I went to East Jerusalem to find out what the difficulties could be. A line of Palestinians stretched up the street. The entrance to the ministry was a steel gate; those at the front of the line clutched its bars, desperate to enter. A sign announced that the office was open from 8:00 A.M. to noon, Monday through Thursday, and from 4:00 to 6:00 on Friday afternoon a total of 18 hours a week.
I asked some people how long they had been waiting. One man arrived at 1:00 A.M. Fifty people were ahead of him. Another said he had come for three consecutive days without getting in; it was difficult for him to stand in line, he continued, because of back problems. He had no choice: He had to renew his Jerusalem identity card. Without this card he could not live in Jerusalem legally or obtain the travel permit he needed to visit family in Jordan.
They put so much pressure on people, he said, referring to the short office hours and long lines. Another man said there should be a hall for people to sit while waiting, instead of having to stand outdoors exposed to the elements.
This is not modern management, he said. This is not humane. The Interior Ministry office in West Jerusalem, which serves Jews, was quite different, however, with seating areas and other amenities.
Everyone with whom I spoke in East Jerusalem had his or her own tale of sorrow. One woman came at 2:00 A.M. to renew a visitors permit for her brother-in-law, but now she was leaving, full of despair for not getting in before the office closed. A Pontifical Mission employee had to pay a lawyer an exorbitant fee to register his childrens births with the Interior Ministry, after his wife made repeated unsuccessful attempts at standing in line.
Some of those who were lucky enough to get into the Interior Ministry also shared their frustrations: Papers they always want more papers, said one. A woman came for a death certificate for her just-deceased father, but his name was misspelled on Ministry records and did not match hospital records. The clerk refused to issue a death certificate. The woman exploded. What do you want me to do bring in his body? She was told to come back in two weeks.
While Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, which includes the Old City, must interact with the Israeli Interior Ministry for a variety of matters, including routine changes of address, the most crucial matter is maintaining a current Jerusalem identity card. Since the Israeli annexation of Jerusalem following the Six Day War in 1967, Jerusalems Palestinian residents have lived in a kind of never-never land.
Much of of the territory of todays Jerusalem was not part of the city before 1967. Present-day Jerusalem includes West Bank villages that stretched from Bethlehem in the south to Ramallah in the north.
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Tags: Jerusalem Maher Turjman