“Living here in the annexed part of East Jerusalem, on the Israeli side of the wall, we do not have an Israeli or a Palestinian passport,” says Sandouka, an activist on political and civil rights in Palestine. “We have a Jordanian travel document which allows us travel and we have Israeli residency.” But, maintaining residency in East Jerusalem is not automatic. “In order to keep this residency,” explains Sandouka, “Palestinians living in East Jerusalem have to prove that their centre of life is in East Jerusalem or Israel.”
Denied citizenship, denied the vote
As a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem, you are not allowed to vote in national elections, only in municipal elections, so people who were born there are denied citizenship and full voting rights. “Palestinians refuse to take part in the municipal elections,” says Sandouka, “as a form of political resistance, a refusal to recognize that East Jerusalem is part of the Israeli capital.”
Housing crisis, building permits, demolitions
At Tur is a Palestinian neighborhood in which Israeli restrictions are causing a housing crisis for the residents. The population of At Tur is expanding normally but each new family faces housing problems because the Israeli municipality of Jerusalem won’t give Palestinians permits to build. “So what happens,” explains Sandouka, “is that people build on the roofs of their houses or add one or two rooms and then the Israeli authorities demolish those new structures because they are built without a permit.” Since 2009, more than 100 Palestinian structures have been demolished in the neighborhood.
Access to healthcare
At Tur has two hospitals which were serving the whole population of East Jerusalem before the separation wall was built. People who are currently living on the “wrong” side of the wall now have to travel for an hour or more to reach healthcare services.
All the settlements, the separation wall and the fragmentation of Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem are part of Israeli policy and planning.
A future for children
“Like any Palestinian woman, we are all worried about our children, about how we can provide a safe environment for them, with all the risks we are facing as Palestinians in East Jerusalem,” says Mrs Sandouka. “Insecurity makes the children stay at home using smart phones and just stuck behind those screens.”
Mrs Sandouka says she dreams about proper representation for the Jerusalemites, having a free voice that can make a difference, and political representation that responds to the needs of the people.
Any kind of support for the communities in East Jerusalem is appreciated, she says. “Advocacy campaigns to raise awareness about East Jerusalem help us a lot. And, please, if there are elections taking place in your country, do not forget to bring up the agenda of Palestine and Jerusalem with the candidates.”
This feature is one in a series of stories for an Easter Initiative by the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (WCC-EAPPI). People living under occupation have shared their daily life experiences of injustice as well as their hopes for the future.