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. 1/2 |


Rimaz Kasabreh is Palestinian. Because of her Israeli-issued green identification card, she is considered a legal resident of the West Bank but an illegal immigration within nearby East Jerusalem – the historically Palestinian-controlled half of Jerusalem until its annexation from Jordan following the Six Day War in 1967. During the war, Israel preemptively attacked its Arab neighbors and captured the Golan Heights from Syria, the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, and the West Bank (which encompassed East Jerusalem at the time) from Jordan. Although Israel withdrew from the occupied territories following United Nations Resolution 242, it explicitly annexed East Jerusalem into a united capital city. It is in this half of Jerusalem – which had been under Palestinian leadership – where Kasabreh has lived with her family since 1996.

Kasabreh currently lives in East Jerusalem with her three children and husband, all of whom are considered permanent residents and hold special blue identification cards that entitle them to most benefits offered by the Israeli government. Years ago, Kasabreh applied for the same card under Israel’s family unification program, but, permanent residency has become almost impossible to obtain through unification claims, especially since the enactment of a restrictive 2003 law, and she has yet to hear back from the authorities.

According to a family lawyer, the Ministry of Interior has stopped processing applications altogether. For now, she remains with her family in East Jerusalem by applying for yearly temporary residency permits – which take months to obtain – and living a highly immobile lifestyle. Because of her liminal and uncertain status, she does not have access to the same Israeli government benefits as East Jerusalem ID holders, including adequate health care, and she cannot apply for a job to help support her family. As a result, she spends most of her time in her family’s home, unable to fully integrate into Palestinian society in East Jerusalem.1

Kasabreh’s story is not unique – in fact, she claims that many of her friends are in similar situations, victims of a bureaucratic approach to Palestinian residency rights in East Jerusalem. Even obtaining a permanent residency card does not guarantee the right to live indefinitely in the city. The Israeli government has retracted over 14,000 residencies since 2011 – most from Palestinians who travelled abroad for some period of time.2 These restrictions on mobility, however, do not apply to the city’s Jewish population.

Palestinians in East Jerusalem remain disenfranchised at a legal level by government policies and budget discrimination.

Prior to the Six Day War, Jerusalem was divided into halves: West Jerusalem, under Israeli control, and East Jerusalem, which was brought under de facto Jordanian control following the 1948 war establishing the state of Israel.3 This divide was formalized in 1949 with the drawing of the ‘Green Line’ – an armistice line – through Jerusalem.4 Despite the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the other occupied territories of the Six Day War, Israel moved to informally annex East Jerusalem into a united city.

Although the international community has still not recognized the move, East Jerusalem today exists under Israeli municipal jurisdiction and control. A 1980 law passed by the Israeli Parliament declared Jerusalem “the complete and united capital of Israel.”5 Currently, an estimated 270,000 Palestinians call East Jerusalem home, although the numbers fluctuate slightly from source to source.6 A 2011 report from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) included the following from a 1997 publication by the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, B’Tselem:

Permanent residency is the same status granted to foreign citizens who have freely chosen to come to Israel and want to live in the country. Because Israel treats Palestinians like immigrants, they, too, 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…Viewing East Jerusalem residents as foreigners who entered Israel is perplexing since it was Israel that entered East Jerusalem in 1967.7

As the B’Tselem report indicates, Palestinians in East Jerusalem remain disenfranchised at a legal level by government policies and budget discrimination, despite the permanent residency status most of them hold. Many choose not to accept permanent citizenship to another country such as Jordan, because attaining such citizenship would result in the automatic revocation of their identification cards.8 Furthermore, the official policy of identity control in East Jerusalem has serious impacts on the Palestinian psyche, resulting in internal community divisions and psychological hardship.

The “nationality” section of the East Jerusalem permanent residency card is left blank – a constant reminder that the cardholder does not belong to a single state, nation, or collective identity.9 It is important to note the terminology here: as the United States Institute of Peace defines “nation” and “state,” it is possible to belong to a nation – “a group of people who feel bound by a common language, culture, religion, history, or ethnicity” – without existing in the physical space of a state. The Israeli-issued permanent residency cards, however, do not make this distinction.10


A family in west bank, one of the many thousands affected by the question of identity cards.

To understand how the identification cards play such a large role in regulating Palestinian mobility and access to services in East Jerusalem – despite the fact that these Palestinians pay taxes, can technically own property (although the Israeli policies towards housing in East Jerusalem are highly contentious), and supposedly receive full Israeli taxpayer benefits – it is necessary to understand the role of the barrier wall constructed in 2002.11 The barrier was purportedly erected under security premises by the Israeli Defense Forces in response to the Second Intifada. Effectively physically isolating East Jerusalem, the barrier went far beyond the borders of the 1949 “Green Line” partition between East and West Jerusalem.12

According to UNOCHA, 142 kilometers of the barrier run through East Jerusalem, with only four kilometers along the Green Line. At its widest point, the barrier extends 14 kilometers into the West Bank.13 The barrier allows the Israeli government to regulate Palestinian mobility and spatial relations in ways that had never before been possible, and the ID cards play a large part in determining who can and cannot pass through the barrier wall at its various checkpoints. As Wendy Pullan pointed out an editorial for Jerusalem Quarterly, “Far from being neutral, space itself has been become [sic] part of the process of political identification and control, and this is now characterizing the city in particular ways to become not just a setting but a perpetrator of further forms of conflict.”14

This paper aims to explore the history and consequences of East Jerusalem’s identity crisis, as well as discuss its potential ramifications looking forward. Combined with recent security measures, namely the construction of the barrier wall, as well as the introduction of more restrictive legislation including the Nationality and Entry into Israel Law (2003), the status of Palestinians in East Jerusalem has been in decline since the 1967 annexation of the city.15

In light of this, it is necessary to not only consider the status of East Jerusalem’s Palestinian population and how their ID cards (or lack thereof) impact their own perceptions of Palestinian identity, but also how their plight fits into the realm of international law and humanitarian concerns. This paper seeks to examine the development of Israeli policies of identity control over time, the formal and informal impact of the identification cards, and the moral implications of these policies.

The body of this paper has been divided into four major sections: the first examines the development of collective Palestinian identity prior to 1948, the second expands on the historical context of the identification card policy, the third addresses the logistics of the policy and its effect on spatial relationships in East Jerusalem, and the fourth is concerned with the more theoretical implications of identity versus identification in the shaping of Palestinian identity today.

It should also be noted that because the barrier wall in East Jerusalem and ID card policies are so inter-related, this paper will discuss both in detail. Finally, the paper concludes that the Israeli policies of identity control used in East Jerusalem constitute unfair treatment of the region’s Palestinian permanent residents, with negative impacts on both Palestinian agency and Israeli objectives in the city.

Roots of Palestinian Identity

According to Rashid Khalidi, author of Palestinian Identity: The Construction of a Modern National Consciousness, it is often incorrectly argued that “one of the most common tropes in treatments of issues related to Palestine is the idea that Palestinian identity, and with it Palestinian nationalism, are ephemeral and of recent origin.”16 This idea is supported by scholars like Baruch Kimmerling and Joel S. Migdal, who, in their book Palestinians: The Making of a People, slip into the error of attributing the birth of a cohesive Palestinian identity to the Zionist movement.17 Khalidi posits that it is incorrect to say that Palestinians can only conceive of their own identity in response to Zionism.18 In late Ottoman Palestine, at the turn of the twentieth century, Jerusalem became a “touchstone of identity” for many Palestinians – a place that all Palestinians identified with, especially on a religious level.19

During the last few decades of Ottoman rule, the use of the word “Palestine” increased greatly in the press, indicating a shift towards a more nationalistic culture within geographic Palestine.20 In 1921, Filastin, one of the most popular papers of the time, explicitly referred to Palestine as a nation state.21 A geography textbook commonly used in Palestinian schools, Jughrafiyyat Suriyya wa Filastin al-Tabi’iyya, singled out Palestine as “a separate entity, a unit whose geography required separate treatment.”22 As Khalidi writes, “Clearly, no one who disputes the widespread existence of a Palestinian national consciousness during the Mandate period, can have examined the press or the country’s educational system during this early phase in even a cursory manner.”23

It is important to recognize the beginnings of a national Palestinian identity prior to the 1948 war, during which Zionist forces gained control of present-day Israel, because of the subsequent impact on how Palestinians view their own sense of belonging to both Jerusalem and the physical space of former Palestine. Today, Palestinian identity is not a singular, straightforward nationalism: it has been shaped by Arab, Israeli, and international forces through the years following 1948, and especially after 1967.

It has been created by overlapping issues and different conceptions of identity, all of which will be a common thread throughout this paper. Political and ideological divisions have also been common threads in the Palestinian narrative, making it difficult for a single organized Palestinian movement to take root. Furthermore, to an extent, Palestinian identity has been influenced by more recent spatial fracturing and isolation within the Palestinian community – a situation that has been, largely created by the barrier wall and the East Jerusalem ID card policy.

First, however, it is necessary to understand the historical framework in which Israeli identification card policies were born, as well as the logistical impact they have had on Palestinian communities in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. To accomplish this, the next section of the paper will explore the background behind the East Jerusalem identification cards, with special attention to how they led to discrimination and unrest within Palestinian communities after 1967.

Annexation and Isolation: East Jerusalem After 1967

Under the UN Partition Plan of 1947, Jerusalem was slated to become an internationally governed area of Palestine.24 However, the Palestinians rejected this proposal, and after the 1948 Israeli War for Independence (known as the Catastrophe, or al- Nakba, throughout the Arab world), the division of Jerusalem was formalized under a 1949 UN Armistice Agreement: a “Green Line” would divide the city into two halves, one Israeli and the other Jordanian-controlled (which is now present-day East Jerusalem).25 Although the Israeli government explicitly did not annex East Jerusalem during this time.26 After the 1967 war, the Jordanian half of the city was declared part of an Israeli-controlled, unified Jerusalem.27

Immediately after occupying East Jerusalem, the Israeli government conducted a census of the area’s population, finding 68,000 Palestinians living there at the time.28 The census was done quickly and without due diligence, but identification cards, indicating permanent residency status for East Jerusalem’s Arab population, were issued on June 26, 1967, two weeks after the conclusion of the war.29 Very few of these Arabs, who had previously held Jordanian citizenship, chose to undergo a universal naturalization process to pursue Israeli citizenship (and, through this, recognize the legitimacy of the State of Israel).30 Instead, they chose permanent residency in their own city – a place where many of them had lived for generations, and a city to which many had both personal and familial ties.

Ten days after the 1967 war, East Jerusalem was brought under Israeli municipal control. Israelis, eager to visit Jerusalem’s Old City (which had previously fallen under Jordanian jurisdiction), moved into East Jerusalem by the thousands, and the walls and barbed wire separating the two halves of Jerusalem were deconstructed.31 During this time, Israel’s Jewish population was overjoyed to have access to some of their most important religious sites again, and tourism rates in the area skyrocketed.32 For a brief while, it seemed that coexistence and integration between the two halves of Jerusalem was very possible. The Israeli government, however, had different plans for unifying the city.

In Separate and Unequal: The Inside Story of Israeli Rule in East Jerusalem, the authors – two former Israeli government advisers on Arab affairs and one senior reporter for The Jerusalem Post – posited that there were two major goals for East Jerusalem during this time: increase the Jewish population, and hinder the growth of the Arab population by forcing them to move elsewhere.33 As the rest of this section will show, the pursuit of these goals led to budget discrimination, neglect of taxpaying Palestinian communities, and, ultimately, a divisive unrest among the Palestinian population that could have easily been avoided by the Israeli government had municipal policies in East Jerusalem been more egalitarian.

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.

At the time, however, Israeli intentions in East Jerusalem appeared positive, especially under the direction of Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek. Kollek said in 1977, “We can only look at the situation realistically: If, at worst, Muslim and Jewish differences prove irreconcilable, we will have to live in tension for a long time. All the more reason to care for the city as much as we can to ensure its welfare and well-being in spite of strains and stress.”34

For Kollek and many others within the Israeli government, fair treatment of both Jewish and Arab communities in the years following 1967 was key to achieving the dream of a unified – and peaceful – Jerusalem. According to a document from the Jerusalem Committee of 1982,

“the overriding, undisputed principle underlying Jerusalem’s planning is the realization of her unity … [by] building up the city in such a way as to preclude the bi-polar emergence of two national communities and forestall any possibility of re-dividing it along such lines.”35

However, despite the intentions of some members of the government, Israel has always been notorious for its bureaucratic system, and many of Kollek’s major goals for the city were never realized on the budget or municipal level. The Arabs quickly became clear victims of budget discrimination: although legally residing Palestinians constituted 28 percent of Jerusalem’s taxpaying population, they only received between two and twelve percent of the budget through various departments.36

An internal municipality memo from 1986 reiterates the consequences of this budget discrimination. The memo openly acknowledged that, “the level of service given to residents of east Jerusalem is much lower than that given to residents of west Jerusalem.”37 The memo also went on to list the ways in which East Jerusalem’s Palestinian population was disadvantaged: most roads were unpaved without sidewalks or lighting, 60% of East Jerusalem neighborhoods still had no garbage collection, the water system was inadequate, and Arab schools were neglected in the budget, to name a few of the concerns.38 Even today, these issues persist throughout East Jerusalem, exacerbated by increasingly strict government policies and ID card discrimination.

For example, some Arab areas of East Jerusalem have not had trash collection since 1967, and attempts by permanent residents to bring these issues up with the Israeli municipality, are repeatedly denied.39 Although their blue card status technically entitles them to the same treatment as Israeli citizens, especially in municipal issues, East Jerusalem’s Palestinians are almost always treated as second-class citizens.

Predictably, the budget discrimination against permanent residents – compounded with issues like the expropriation of East Jerusalem territory to construct Jewish settlements – led to unrest within the Arab community. As the First Intifada began to tear the city apart in 1987, the Israeli dream of a “united” Jerusalem was quickly eviscerated. The city’s leadership had ignored the first signs of unrest in 1985, and even though they were fully aware of the unfair issues that East Jerusalem’s Arab population faced, nothing was done to remedy them on the ground.40

As a result of the police response to the uprisings, the distinction between the treatment of East Jerusalem and the occupied territories became blurred, and polarization between the Arab and Jewish communities became increasingly pronounced.41 Additionally, blue ID card holders were subjected, at least during the First Intifada (1987-1991), to similar checkpoints and inspections that had typically been reserved for West Bank residents.42 Revoking some of the privileges typically associated with the permanent residency card further incensed the Palestinians of East Jerusalem, and, in part, contributed to the reemergence of a collective Palestinian identity.

As authors Chesin, Hutman, and Melamed pointed out in Separate and Unequal, “Kollek could not help but say ‘I told you so’ to Israel’s national leaders. According to the mayor’s thinking, the uprisings that broke out in Jerusalem as part of the intifada were the direct result of the failure of the government to invest more money in improving living conditions in East Jerusalem.”43 For Kollek, uniting the two halves of Jerusalem was as simple as treating the entire city’s population fairly in both budget allocations and responding to concerns from Palestinian residents.

On the ground, however, these goals were never initiated, which culminated in violent unrest and a redividing of Jerusalem along much more hostile and polarized lines. This is the Jerusalem that exists today, and East Jerusalem’s permanent residents continue to be disenfranchised despite their blue card status. The identification cards issued by the Israeli government have only deprived the Palestinians of agency and their ability to define their identity for themselves. Instead, they are trapped in a legal limbo – without citizenship in any country and the desire to remain in their home city, they are often the victims of policies made far beyond their control. The next section will discuss the socio-spatial implications and consequences of these policies.

Suggested Reading from Inquiries Journal

If I belonged to the majority of the Israeli public I might call this paper ‘A journey along an Israeli neighbourhood – discovering the many sides of Jerusalem’. If my origins were different... MORE»
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a perplexing problem that weighs heavily on the world. For over seventy-five years, blood has been spilt over a piece of land about the size of New Jersey. Numerous attempts have been made to find peace in what is referred to as the Holy Land. Unfortunately, each plan has failed miserably. What is needed now is a fresh examination of the circumstances. Divergent ideas need to be brought to the table for examination... MORE»
Israel has increased the nation’s security presence around the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank. Here, the research project analyzes how transaction costs resulting from Israeli security policy impact the output of... MORE»
The level of displacement surrounding the Israel-Palestinian conflict is astounding. At this point there are over nine million Palestinian refugees scattered throughout the globe (King-Irani 924,). Arguing that their situation is dehumanizing and infringes upon their human rights, Palestinians have consistently demanded the right of return as a prerequisite for peace negotiations (Tovy 40... MORE»
Submit to Inquiries Journal, Get a Decision in 10-Days

Inquiries Journal provides undergraduate and graduate students around the world a platform for the wide dissemination of academic work over a range of core disciplines.

Representing the work of students from hundreds of institutions around the globe, Inquiries Journal's large database of academic articles is completely free. Learn more | Blog | Submit

Follow IJ

Latest in International Affairs

2022, Vol. 14 No. 04
With over 10 million stateless people globally, statelessness has increasingly become a pressing issue in international law. The production of statelessness occurs across multiple lines including technical loopholes, state succession, and discriminatory... Read Article »
2021, Vol. 13 No. 09
The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated current global challenges. However, this article argues that this time of crisis can also be a unique opportunity for the existing global economic institutions - G20, WTO, IMF, and World Bank (WB) - to make the... Read Article »
2021, Vol. 13 No. 02
On January 1st, 1959, a small band of Cuban rebels shocked the world, overthrowing the American-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista. These rebels were especially known for their guerrilla tactics and their leaders, such as Fidel Castro and Ernesto... Read Article »
2021, Vol. 13 No. 01
Israel has increased the nation’s security presence around the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank. Here, the research project analyzes how transaction costs resulting from Israeli security policy impact the output of manufacturing activities... Read Article »
2020, Vol. 12 No. 09
The necessity of international relief is unending as new crises continue to emerge across the world. International aid plays a crucial role in shaping how affected communities rebuild after a crisis. However, humanitarian aid often results in a... Read Article »
2019, Vol. 11 No. 10
This article aims to present the biopiracy of traditional knowledge from India by the United States, which has occurred directly through the use of patent law and indirectly through economic power and cultural imperialism. Throughout this essay,... Read Article »
2018, Vol. 10 No. 10
After joining the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 2004, Estonians felt secure and in charge of their future. However, following the 2007 Bronze Horseman incident in the Estonian capital of Tallinn which included... Read Article »

What are you looking for?


Writing a Graduate School Personal Statement
Finding Balance in Graduate School
How to Use Regression Analysis Effectively