An Uncertain Belonging: Permanent Residency ID Cards and East Jerusalem's Identity Crisis

By Halie Craig
Cornell International Affairs Review
2014, Vol. 7 No. 2 | pg. 2/2 |

The Effect of Identification Cards on Spatial Relations

In a 1969 study of the self-imposed labels of Israeli Arabs entitled “Some observations of the national identity of the Israeli Arabs,” academics Peres and Yuval- Davis asked respondents to rank the labels that they most identified with.44 The study was conducted before the 1967 war, and a follow up was conducted afterwards. Before the war, the researchers found that Arabs, on average, ranked their identity preferences as follows: Israeli, Israeli-Arab, Arab, Palestinian, and Muslim/Christian. After the war, the rankings shifted: Arab, Muslim/Christian, Israeli-Arab, Palestinian, and Israeli.45

The results of this study emphasize the profound effecs of the 1967 war on the Arab population of East Jerusalem, especially in the years following the city’s annexation. Teddy Kollek, in his desire to unify two populations, saw such shifting identity preferences as a threat to unified Jerusalem. He said, “The Christians are not the problem. We can come to agreement with them. The central problem is the Muslim Arabs, and Muslim Arab nationalism. That is the major problem we face.”46 However, as this section will discuss, the policies that the Israeli government imposed on East Jerusalem’s Palestinians isolated them physically, singling out their identity rather than including them in the fabric of the city and fulfilling Israeli legal obligations towards the city’s permanent residents.

In 2002, following the beginnings of the Second Intifada (2002-2005), Israel approved the construction of a barrier wall in order to deter suicide bombers from entering the West Bank.47 The barrier created a spatial divide between the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and heavily impacted future ID card policies; the type of identification card carried determined who could enter or exit through the barrier wall, at which checkpoints, and how difficult this process would be for them.

Although the barrier essentially re-drew the boundaries of Jerusalem and physically annexed most of East Jerusalem, it also had a significant effect on many Palestinian communities. Some West Bank communities (not in possession of permanent residency) were included on the “Jerusalem” side of the barrier, while large, peripheral Palestinian communities were physically annexed to the “West Bank” side of the wall.48 At some points, as in the case of Abu Dis, the barrier wall even ran through Palestinian towns.49 Recent estimates suggest that about 25 percent of East Jerusalem’s permanent residents are cut off by the barrier.50

Since the construction of the barrier, identification cards have become an even more critical component of Palestinian daily life, impacting economic status, ability to obtain jobs, and family unification – as in the case of Rimaz Kasabreh, the West Bank Palestinian who must live illegally in East Jerusalem in order to stay with her husband and two children. The following case study from the 2011 UNOCHA report (found on pages 74- 75) further illustrates the central role that the barrier wall plays in the everyday decisionmaking processes of Palestinian families.

Kifaya al Khatib has eleven children, and has been living in her current home since the 1970s. Originally in the West Bank, part of her village – including her family’s house – was “annexed” into East Jerusalem when the barrier wall was constructed. Because she does not possess the blue Jerusalem ID, she cannot travel throughout the city, cannot drive there, cannot take any form of transportation, and must travel through a checkpoint in the barrier in order to enter the West Bank and purchase groceries – a basic necessity that she is not allowed to buy within Jerusalem.

Activities that most would see as mundane, such as buying food, have become a long and arduous process for the al Khatib family, and all grocery bags must be inspected at the barrier checkpoint by IDF security patrols. Kifaya is only permitted to bring in food for her own family’s consumption, and cannot bring most meats, dairy, or eggs into Jerusalem – items which were previously staples of her family’s diet. Additionally, Kifaya has been unable to acquire the permanent residency that would make living on the “Jerusalem” side of the barrier easier:51

Our life has changed drastically as a result of the Wall. Even though we live on the Jerusalem side, we are not allowed to be in Jerusalem itself, because we don’t have Jerusalem ID cards to reside here or permits to enter the city. The only place I’m officially allowed to be is my home itself and the stretch of road leading to the checkpoint. I can’t even visit my neighbours … I have been fighting for 20 years to get a Jerusalem ID to reside in Jerusalem. While my neighbours in the same situation received one, I was refused, the reason being that my house is built without a permit. Even though we don’t have a building permit, through our lawyer we managed to avoid getting a demolition order. However, when we built an extension for my son’s family, it was demolished.52

Spatially, the construction of the barrier, combined with the identification card policy, has made daily living a nearly impossible process for many Palestinian families, especially those from the West Bank who have now been relocated to the “Jerusalem” side of the wall. As Kifaya said, “If I think about my future my biggest hope is to be able to feel relaxed and to move freely. The way it is now, we feel like we’re living in a cage.”53

With the Second Intifada, restrictive policies – like those the al Khatib family faces today – only increased. Although the barrier was constructed under the premise of legitimate security concerns for the Israeli state, its function today has far exceeded its original purpose of protecting the inhabitants of Jerusalem from terrorist threats. Not only do the borders of the barrier still stretch kilometers beyond the 1947 Green Line, but they also act as a physical regulation of identity for those not privileged enough to hold Israeli citizenship.

These individuals are not terrorists, and many hold deep personal ties to the city of Jerusalem. Often, they are people like Kifaya: rendered immobile because they do not have the proper identification that will allow them to move freely within their own village, and subject to ID card and permit checks on a daily basis. These policies go far beyond the scope of preventing terrorist actions, especially for Palestinians that have inhabited their homes in the West Bank or East Jerusalem for decades, if not generations.

Beyond the barrier wall, there are several other measures in place that have come to define spatial relations between Palestinian communities and Jewish communities in East Jerusalem. The most potent example of these is the system of road networks that runs through the city. As a report from the Journal of Palestine Studies summarized, “in effect, Israelis and Palestinians use a parallel road system.”54 Those possessing Israeli citizenship – and a government-issued license plate indicating this status – are permitted to drive on the bypass road, which is a separate transportation system from the one available to Palestinians.55

The bypass road consists of a secure system of roads, which are regularly patrolled by the IDF, are well lit, and are well maintained by the municipal authorities.56 The Palestinians, however, travel along a separate system that links Palestinian villages to one another. Because the road system is poorly maintained and subject to a series of obstacles by the IDF – one report counts 85 checkpoints and 460 roadblocks–travelling across East Jerusalem takes significantly longer.57 As Wendy Pullan noted, “What used to be a five minute trip across Abu Dis to the university, or a fifteen minute drive from Jerusalem, is now, for those with the proper permissions, a journey of at least 45 minutes involving Israeli military checkpoints.”58

The road system and barrier wall are perhaps the two most obvious examples of how Palestinian mobility in physical space has become severely restricted in East Jerusalem. It is important to note that these systems of mobility rely heavily on identification – whether through blue cards or green cards (issued by the Palestinian Authority to most West Bank residents) or military permits for checkpoints and roads, East Jerusalem’s Palestinians are constantly forced to prove their identity.

Not only does this make daily life difficult for many residents (both permanent and illegal), it also perpetuates a system wherein Palestinian agency is controlled by a higher authority: in many situations, even blue ID card holders have little say in their own selfdefinition. As this paper will discuss next, the identification and mobility restriction policies that the Israeli government operates in East Jerusalem have a profound effect on Palestinian identity, self-determination, and psychological independence.

Developing Impacts on Palestinian Identity

As Rashid Khalidi wrote in Palestinian Identity, “unlike most of the other peoples in the Middle East, the Palestinians have never achieved any form of national independence in their homeland.”59 Although Palestinian national identity began to take root during the early 19th century, with more frequent references to the nation state of Palestine in the press, a fully present nationality never came to fruition. Today, collective Palestinian identity has almost entirely been shaped as a response to external forces: the British Mandate of Palestine, the Zionist settlers, the modern day policies of the State of Israel, and the treatment of Palestinians by surrounding Arab countries and the international community. Any way it is examined, the formation of an overall Palestinian identity is a weighty and complex issue – and far too nuanced to tackle in the span of a paper.

However, it is worthwhile to discuss the potential ramifications of the East Jerusalem identity cards on the Palestinian psyche as it pertains to those Palestinians currently residing within the walls of the city. Ramzi Suleiman’s essay, “On Marginal People: The Case of the Palestinians in Israel” explores the psychological consequences of state-imposed marginality on the country’s Palestinian population. Suleiman’s argument is two-pronged: first, that the Palestinian minority is a marginalized group within Israel; and second, that “the practices of the State and Jewish public towards the Palestinian minority, are strategies and practices of power and domination.”60

Indeed, Suleiman’s assertions are supported by the case of the permanent residents of East Jerusalem, as well as those Palestinians who live illegally within the city’s boundaries. As Wendy Pullan wrote in Jerusalem Quarterly, the Palestinians and the Israelis have two very separate experiences in Jerusalem: those of “boundedness” and “mobility,” respectively.61 Because Israelis are free to travel throughout Jerusalem and have access to secure bypass roads, “the distance becomes compressed and made comfortable, and in doing so, the political boundaries of space recede.”62 In other words, citizens of Israel are not made constantly aware of their own identities through time-consuming and humiliating government checkpoints. Their identity is not contested in the way that it is for East Jerusalem’s Arab population.

“It is at these borders and barriers that the six million Palestinians are singled out for ‘special treatment,’ and are forcefully reminded of their identity: of who they are, and why they are different from others,” Khalidi wrote, describing the lengthy process of entering and exiting Israel as a legally stateless Palestinian.63 This paper argues that it is this constant process of being forced to prove one’s identity and sense of belonging that has had the most substantial impact on Palestinian self-identity under Israeli rule. This is especially relevant in East Jerusalem, where blue ID cards are coveted by Palestinians but have simultaneously become a reminder of the holder’s uncertain status within the state.


The wall of separation near Tulkarem, Palestine

Furthermore, permanent residents know that their status can be revoked at any moment, and they must be able to prove, through a comprehensive paper trail, that their “centre of life” remains in East Jerusalem.64 This policy of proving a “centre of life” has been in place since 1988, after the beginning of the First Intifada.65

Between 1989 and 2012, 11,331 residencies were revoked, according to Israeli human rights organization HaMoked, which uses data supplied by the Israeli Ministry of Interior.66

Finally, under 2003’s Nationality and Entry into Israel Law (Temporary Order) 6753-2003, spouses of permanent residents without blue card status are required to continually apply for temporary residency at ministry offices.67 Often, when they arrive at these offices, they are again reminded of their marginal status. They will be told that working hours are over, or that they must speak Hebrew to communicate, even though Arabic is Israel’s second official language.68 This law has been consistently renewed.


As this paper seeks to show, Palestinians residing within East Jerusalem have been repeatedly marginalized in Israeli society, most tangibly through the state’s permanent residency card policy. The use of the Jerusalem blue ID card is also closely linked to access for many other privileges within the city, including geo-spatial factors like the barrier wall and parallel road system that runs through Jerusalem. Palestinians are deprived of participating in the culture of Jerusalem and are prevented from partaking in the normal life of the city due to their physical location and restricted modes of access.

This has negative consequences for Palestinian collective identity, as Palestinian communities are often isolated from one another, especially with the construction of the barrier wall. Additionally, the creation of a hierarchy of access through identification cards could lead to future tension among Palestinians. There are also negative effects for the Israeli government, which will find itself in a constant cycle of quelling intifadas if it continues to respond to uprisings with increasingly harsh regulations, such as the Nationality and Entry into Israel Law and further budget discrimination, deprivation of services to Arabs in municipality offices, and poor resources for Palestinian schools and youth programs.

In “On Marginal People,” Suleiman summarized the effects of Israel’s formally imposed marginality: “…marginality is not caused by belonging to numerous groups, but by an uncertain belonging. In its successful attempt to transcend the Diaspora and create sovereignty for Jews, Zionism has created a new kind of marginality for the indigenous Palestinian minority.”69

Although pinpointing Zionism as the sole cause of the Palestinian identity crisis in East Jerusalem today would be misleading, Suleiman makes his point by describing the case of the Palestinians as an “uncertain belonging.” Through physical barriers and spatial isolation, as well as unnecessarily strict family unification policies, daily life as a Palestinian in East Jerusalem is made more difficult by the Israeli bureaucracy. However, what is most significant about the Palestinian permanent residents of East Jerusalem is how the access that they have been granted by Israeli government is so closely tied to an identification card – a card which can easily be revoked if they cannot prove through documentation that their identity, literally their “center of life,” lies within the city of Jerusalem.

As a result, the identity of Palestinians in East Jerusalem is inextricably intertwined with the Israeli legal system and their precarious status as residents within the city they call home. Living in Jerusalem should not mean that they should have their identity constantly pointed out to them, or that they should be unable to move outside of the city lest they lose their residency (a policy that does not apply to permanent residents from abroad).70 By limiting the ability of Palestinians within East Jerusalem to live full and normal lives – without fear that their ID cards, with their blank “nationality” sections, will be revoked – the Israeli government is not only putting itself in a morally questionable position, but also endangering future prospects for peace.

Unless the Palestinians of East Jerusalem are awarded the full permanent residency rights that they deserve as Israeli taxpayers, they will continue to be marginalized within their own city and disenfranchised politically and socio-spatially. And if this continues, then Teddy Kollek’s vision of a truly unified Jerusalem – one that is not only physically united, but also culturally and religiously egalitarian – may never become a reality.


  1. “East Jerusalem: Key Humanitarian Concerns,” United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, March 2011, accessed December 13, 2013, ocha_opt_jerusalem_report_2011_03_23_web_english.pdf, 20-21.
  2. “East Jerusalem: Key Humanitarian Concerns – Fact Sheet,” United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, accessed November 18, 2013, ocha_opt_ Jerusalem_FactSheet_December_2011_english.pdf, 1.
  3. “East Jerusalem: Key Humanitarian Concerns,” 6.
  4. “East Jerusalem: Key Humanitarian Concerns,” 7.
  5. “East Jerusalem: Key Humanitarian Concerns,” 8.
  6. “East Jerusalem: Key Humanitarian Concerns – Fact Sheet,” United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, accessed November 18, 2013, ocha_opt_ Jerusalem_FactSheet_December_2011_english.pdf, 1.
  7. “East Jerusalem: Key Humanitarian Concerns,” 13.
  8. The Quiet Deportation: Revocation of Residency of East Jerusalem’s Palestinians, April 1997, B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories and HaMoked: Center for Defence of the Individual, accessed December 13, 2013, http://www.btselem. org/publications/summaries/ 199704_quiet_deportation.
  9. Linda Gradstein, “East Jerusalem’s Identity Crisis,” The Jerusalem Post, October 4, 2012, accessed October 27, 2013,
  10. “State versus nation,” United States Institute of Peace, accessed April 1, 2014, http://glossary.usip. org/resource/state-versus-nation.
  11. Ed. Geoffrey Aronson, “Settlement Monitor,” Journal of Palestine Studies 37, no. 1 (2007): 178.
  12. Ian S. Lustick, “Has Israel Annexed East Jerusalem?,” Middle East Policy 5, no. 1 (1997): 42.
  13. “East Jerusalem: Key Humanitarian Concerns,” 66.
  14. Wendy Pullan, “The Space of Contested Jerusalem,” Jerusalem Quarterly 39 (2009): 48.
  15. “East Jerusalem: Key Humanitarian Concerns,” 20.
  16. Rashid Khalidi, Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), 177.
  17. Khalidi, Palestinian Identity, 212.
  18. Khalidi, Palestinian Identity, 177.
  19. Khalidi, Palestinian Identity, 35.
  20. Khalidi, Palestinian Identity, 58.
  21. Khalidi, Palestinian Identity, 173.
  22. Khalidi, Palestinian Identity, 174.
  23. Ibid.
  24. “East Jerusalem: Key Humanitarian Concerns,” 6.
  25. “East Jerusalem: Key Humanitarian Concerns,” 7.
  26. Lustick, “Has Israel Annexed East Jerusalem?,” 42.
  27. “East Jerusalem: Key Humanitarian Concerns,” 8.
  28. Amir Cheshin, Bill Hutman, and Avi Melamad, Separate and Unequal: The Inside Story of Israeli Rule in East Jerusalem (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), 7.
  29. Lustick, “Has Israel Annexed East Jerusalem?,” 39.
  30. Ibid.
  31. Cheshin, Hutman, and Melamad, Separate and Unequal, 198.
  32. Cheshin, Hutman, and Melamad, Separate and Unequal, 13.
  33. Cheshin, Hutman, and Melamad, Separate and Unequal, 10.
  34. Cheshin, Hutman, and Melamad, Separate and Unequal, 237.
  35. Pullan, “The Space of Contested Jerusalem,” 43.
  36. Cheshin, Hutman, and Melamad, Separate and Unequal, 25.
  37. Cheshin, Hutman, and Melamad, Separate and Unequal, 21.
  38. Ibid.
  39. Cheshin, Hutman, and Melamad, Separate and Unequal, 126-127.
  40. Cheshin, Hutman, and Melamad, Separate and Unequal, 18.
  41. Cheshin, Hutman, and Melamad, Separate and Unequal, 173.
  42. Cheshin, Hutman, and Melamad, Separate and Unequal, 176.
  43. Cheshin, Hutman, and Melamad, Separate and Unequal, 190.
  44. Ramzi Suleiman, “On Marginal People: The Case of the Palestinians in Israel,” in Psychoanalysis, Identity, and Ideology: Critical Essays on the Israel/Palestine Case, ed. John Bunzl and Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi (Boston: Kluwer Academic, 2002), 77.
  45. Ibid.
  46. Cheshin, Hutman, and Melamad, Separate and Unequal, 235.
  47. “East Jerusalem: Key Humanitarian Concerns,” 3.
  48. “East Jerusalem: Key Humanitarian Concerns,” 74.
  49. Aronson, “Settlement Monitor,” 178.
  50. Ibid.
  51. “East Jerusalem: Key Humanitarian Concerns,” 45.
  52. “East Jerusalem: Key Humanitarian Concerns,” 74.
  53. “East Jerusalem: Key Humanitarian Concerns,” 75.
  54. Aronson, “Settlement Monitor,” 178.
  55. Pullan, “The Space of Contested Jerusalem,” 45.
  56. Pullan, “The Space of Contested Jerusalem,” 47.
  57. Aronson, “Settlement Monitor,” 177.
  58. Pullan, “The Space of Contested Jerusalem,” 47.
  59. Khalidi, Palestinian Identity, 10.
  60. Suleiman, “On Marginal People,” 73.
  61. Pullan, “The Space of Contested Jerusalem,” 48.
  62. Ibid.
  63. Khalidi, Palestinian Identity, 1.
  64. “East Jerusalem: Key Humanitarian Concerns,” 2.
  65. “East Jerusalem: Key Humanitarian Concerns,” 14.
  66. “Status Revocations in East Jerusalem,” HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual, accessed April 16, 2014,
  67. “East Jerusalem: Key Humanitarian Concerns,” 19.
  68. Ibid.
  69. Suleiman, “On Marginal People,” 82.
  70. The Quiet Deportation.

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