Her two brothers and her father have Jerusalem IDs, but because she and her mother do not, the family had to move to a location on the outskirts of Jerusalem to be together. Samyah is not allowed to enter Jerusalem—not even to attend her grandmother’s funeral.
Below, Samyah reflects on the hardship and hope surrounding her life because she has been denied an ID card.
Samyah introduces herself by saying her name—a name given to her by her family. But under the state, she has no real name.
“I have no ID card,” she said. “It is like I exist—but I do not exist.”
She finds her situation difficult to explain—but not as difficult the uphill battle she and her family have been fighting for a decade to end her “stateless” situation and to regain her “Jerusalem residency.” Samyah’s situation is further complicated because the Palestinian Authority is unable to give her a West Bank ID card.
“On one hand I try to live a normal life, but on the other the Israeli Interior Ministry does not recognize my right because I am a Palestinian,” she said. “My true identity is that of a Jerusalem Palestinian, but someone is trying to impose on me the identity of a stateless person.”
Samyah lives with her family in a neighborhood on the outskirts of Jerusalem. “I pay taxes to Israel—municipal taxes, too—water and electricity bills, but they would not give me an ID card,” she said. “I pay taxes but I get no rights in return.”
She has been living there for eight years. “The family had to move with me from Jerusalem—my father, mother, and brothers,” she said. “I lost my right to live a normal life—to get a driver’s license, health insurance, merely to move freely from one place to the other.”
The opportunities she’s missed have added up over the years. “I never travelled abroad,” she said. “How can I travel with no papers?”
But she dreams of traveling. “If I had the chance to travel, I want to visit a country where human rights are respected,” she said. “I would love to see new places, to learn about world cultures, and to try new types of food.”
She believes she should have the right to choose where she can go—a right most other people can take for granted.
“Yes, I dream of travelling—to visit the sea, and to be exposed to beautiful things that I can do,” she said “I love the beach, and I want to sit there and try delicious food.”
But with no ID card, it’s too risky for her to go to the beach. She doesn’t feel safe.
“I want to have a driver’s license, bank account, and credit card so I can buy online items that other people around the world can buy,” she said. “Even if I ever contemplate the possibility of someday getting married, I am not sure how legally my situation will be handled because I have no ID card.”
Amid the denial of this young woman’s dreams, she counts on what she describes as “tremendous support” from her family. “They are my entire life,” she said. “They have assigned a lawyer for me, and they encourage me.”
Whenever her family members travel, they buy her gifts—tokens from lands she dreams about visiting herself.
Still, she is preparing for a future with hope for a better life. “I studied law at the university and now I am pursuing my master’s in international law and diplomacy,” she explained. “It was very difficult for the university to admit me, but I had to go there and tell them that I have a humanitarian situation.”
Her hope for the future rests in her ability to resist this injustice. “I know that I have the right to an ID card,” she said. “The Israeli Interior Ministry denies me the right to live in Jerusalem.”
She keeps going. She keeps fighting.
“I want churches around the world to pray for me, so that I can live freely,” she said. “I want the Israeli Interior Ministry to acknowledge that I exist as a human being.”
Most of all, she wants to exist in all eyes. “I want efforts exerted so that my humanity is recognized,” she said.
Palestinians born in East Jerusalem are not automatically registered by the Israeli Interior Ministry. The status is denied if one of the parents holds a West Bank ID card, and the family must go through a complicated and costly legal battle to have the child registered. Samyah’s case speaks to the effort by a Palestinian family to live a normal life together in Jerusalem, despite the odds against them.
Israel retained the authority to approve family unification applications, and in 2000 stopped processing such applications (except in the framework of two diplomatic “gestures,” the first in 2007 and the second in August 2021). With no hope of undergoing formal family unification, thousands live in the West Bank with no legal status at all.
*Samyah is a pseudo name given to protect the identity of the young woman who was willing to share her story.