When my parents got married in 1994, they had no idea what was awaiting them. Like any other newly wedded couple, they had hopes and aspirations for a new, calmer life. My father was already an employee in a pontifical nonprofit organization in Jerusalem, for wages are a lot higher there than anywhere in the West Bank. But he was relying on permits, constantly applying for them so he could cross the border every day from where he lived in Bethlehem. Eventually, he and my mother decided to apply for a “Family Reunification Permit” that would grant my father, a Palestinian citizen, a “Temporary Residence Permit” so they could live in Jerusalem, especially since my mother would have eventually lost her blue ID card and with it all her rights as a Palestinian living in Jerusalem, including medical insurance, had she decided to live with him in the West Bank.
Although years went by with no sliver of hope on the horizon for getting that permit, my parents decided to move together to Jerusalem whether my father got the residence permit or not, to establish proof that my father deserved" this permit and subsequently a temporary blue ID. As a result, my father spent five years living in Jerusalem unofficially, during which time my mom trembled whenever he was a bit late after work, thinking he had been stopped or taken away or worse, and they avoided traveling even when they wanted to because my father couldn’t travel through Israeli airports.
The permit was finally granted to him in 1999. Following this, to the plan was for him to renew his residency each year for about two years before obtaining the blue Jerusalem ID, which e expected to get in 2002. But because nothing ever comes easily for Palestinians, procedures took longer than expected. The straw that broke the camels’ backs —the “Temporary Residence Permit” holders’ backs, that Is —was the new family reunification ruling issued by the Israeli Supreme Court in 2003. This barred Palestinians outside the border wall from living in “Israel” with their Palestinian spouses from the West Bank. Therefore, my father — among many other Palestinians — indefinitely lost his right to obtain the blue ID.
My father, a fighter
Being a Palestinian with a temporary residence permit in Israel meant he had no right to drive a car, have medical insurance, travel via Israeli airports or open a bank account in Israel. However, my father, who has always been stubborn and brave, decided to challenge that as much as he was able. He risked everything, driving his car to work daily and crossing checkpoints every now and then to visit his mother, brother and two sisters in their family home in Bethlehem with its garden of fig and pomegranate trees and grape vines.
I still remember how it felt to be in the car with him every nerve-racking time we had to cross a checkpoint and how I waited with terror for nearby police officers and cars to pass. My moms face would begin to lose color and her smiles would fade every time we approached any checkpoint, for the voices of the soldiers were always loud and authoritative, making it hard not to be terrified or even to feel guilty when you're not. My father, on the other hand, wore his reassuring smile and kept our conversations going.
Back then, I was a child praying for my father’s ploys to work out, hoping against hope his diplomatic card from being a church employee would save him each time. I knew my father was doing a dangerous thing, driving his car illegally and crossing checkpoints regularly, but I had no idea that, had he been caught, he likely would have been jailed or prohibited from living in Jerusalem with us ever again, or both.
An incident that illustrates his courage and self-control is engraved in my mind to this day. I was about six or seven. We were on our way to Bethlehem on a scorching summer day. Israeli soldiers stopped the car on Palestinian land and took my father away, and my mother was left crying and waiting for a family member to pick us up.
I've always believed there were many soldiers and jeeps when this incident took place and loud and continuous screaming. Seeing the soldiers’ long rifles, I thought they were going to shoot my father. I also remember being left alone with my mother. However, years later, my mother told me there were actually only two soldiers and my younger siblings were also present — my skewed memory evidence of my trauma. I wasn’t told where my father had gone that day. All I remember is not being able to sleep for several nights, imagining a soldier’s face on the window shutters every time I closed my eyes.
Since the 1990s, Israel has imposed hundreds of permanent checkpoints and roadblocks, prohibiting residents of every Palestinian city or village from crossing into the occupied territories except on foot only, in the event that they obtain permits (available only during religious holidays and exceptional cases such as severe medical conditions). My father, who was a green ID holder, belonged to this category. However, as a child I was totally oblivious.
Finally—a temporary blue ID
In 2016, my father finally received a temporary blue ID, to be renewed once every two years. Ironically, my siblings and I had already had our permanent ones for years, because we were registered on my mom’s blue ID. However, I still remember that checkpoint incident to this day. My heart still skips a beat whenever we approach a checkpoint, remembering how my father would sigh and make the sign of the cross, his sweat soaking his shirt whenever we were stopped.
While we are happy that my father was lucky to have benefitted from a gap in the law that enabled a few families to receive a temporary blue ID, our happiness cannot be complete knowing that thousands of families are trapped in the system as a result of the continuous revision of the temporary law that prevents Palestinian families from obtaining residency in Jerusalem. The mother of a close friend, for instance, is still waiting, moving from one attorney to the other for approximately 20 years trying to obtain her temporary blue ID. She is currently living in Jerusalem as a Palestinian, not benefitting from services the Israeli government provides.
Love colored by ID color
For Palestinians living under the occupation, love, compatibility and financial stability do not suffice when choosing a lifelong partner. The color of identity cards cannot possibly be over- looked. In fact, it could make all the difference. In September 2011, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs counted 522 roadblocks and checkpoints, hindering the movement of Palestinians, not counting temporary “flying checkpoints,” about 500 on average per month in the West Bank also in 2011.
To make matters worse, or to “protect Israelis from Palestinian terrorism,” as then-prime minister of Israel Yitzhak Rabin stated, the first section of the Apartheid Wall was constructed in 1994. The process of its construction and the resulting tightening measures multiplied, especially following the events of the Second Intifada. Palestinians living behind the wall in the West Bank were given green ID cards, whereas those living in Jerusalem and the territories occupied in 1948 were given blue ID cards, allowing them to move somewhat freely around the different cities of Palestine. This has created a potential barrier to love in so many ways, with blue ID holders afraid of marrying holders of the green ID in order to avoid endless hardships.
As I sit down to write this story, I hear my mother speak of all the times she almost lost hope and wished she had never married, of all the sleepless nights and restless days awaiting either catastrophes or the slightest improvements to their situation. Although she admits she has never met anyone like my father, and had, in fact, rejected many men until she met him, and I watch my parents eyeing each other with an inextinguishable spark, I nevertheless wonder how much I’m ready to sacrifice for love.