Life under occupation – 19: a visitor’s view
A selection of posts on the newly established withwoman blog, recording a trip to observe midwifery practice in the West Bank
My traveling companions want to go to Al Aqsa before returning to Hebron. For a Hebronite to come to East Jerusalem requires a permit and these are not always granted. So, they would like to take the opportunity. They want to show me the famous mosque too. But apparently it is not possible for a Palestinian muslim to accompany a non-muslim foreign visitor to this site. I am stopped at the gate by the Police and redirected to a tourist gate which is closing soon. My companions had no idea that would happen, they do not know if they can get in at the tourist gate or if we can walk there before it closes. I do not want to deprive them of a rare opportunity to pray at Al Aqsa, just so I can have a tourist visit. Maybe I will go the morning before I leave.
I wait for them outside the gate. My passport number is taken down and my rucksack searched for my trouble. I have some midwifery-related literature with me in English and Arabic which raises some eyebrows.
In an earlier post I mentioned that my host had been distracted when we spoke on the phone, on account of her son being denied an ID card. Today she told me a little of the background. There are many stories that are upsetting. When you are told them directly by the people affected, they are more so.
The case goes like this. My host is a Palestinian woman with a Jerusalem ID. She lives in East Jerusalem. Her husband works in the West Bank and has a West Bank ID. Her husband applied to get a Jerusalem ID under a process called ‘family reunification’. He is an academic at a university and a moderate. At the hearing to decide if he would get his ID, the Shin Bet said he was security risk. There is no requirement for evidence to be presented to the court for this and therefore his lawyers were unable to make any legal challenge. Given the testimony on the character of this man, even the judge queried the Shin Bet – were they really sure about their assessment? Apparently they were sure, though no evidence was entered. So, Jerusalem ID was refused. That was almost a decade ago. If she lives with her husband in the West Bank, she loses her Jerusalem ID, her rights to be in that city, her livelihood, her ability to move between the West Bank and Jerusalem. Something that is vital for being able to take 88-year old women to hospital, amongst other things.
She sees her husband when she can. To stay with him is to risk removal of her ID. Her teenage son has been denied a Jerusalem ID on the grounds that he ought to live with his father in the West Bank.
Alternatively, her and her children could move out East Jerusalem. Anyone might think that was the objective of policies such as these.
The woman who has so kindly made the arrangements for my visit picked me up in East Jerusalem today. We are going to Al-Makassed hospital in East Jerusalem to meet a group doctors and nurses who are taking a Diploma in Child Health accredited by the UK Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and run by Juzoor. Two of the participants are from Hebron, and the plan is for me to travel back to Hebron with them and that they will see me to the door of the hotel I am booked to stay in.
But first we must take an 88-year old relative to a different hospital, Augusta Victoria, for cancer tests. Although there is no maternity unit here I learn a lot about the effect of the system of ID cards, permits, and checkpoints on Palestinian lives.
‘Auntie’ (as I am introduced) lives in the West Bank and has a West Bank ID. She has no immediate relatives living in the West Bank (many of her family have emigrated) and a permit will not be granted for a more distant relative or other carer to accompany her to the hospital. My host has a Jerusalem ID and can drive between Jerusalem and the West Bank. If she had not able to act as chauffeur, this unwell elderly woman undergoing cancer tests would, after queuing for an indefinite length of time, have had to cross on foot at Qalandia checkpoint. Alternatively she could have used an ambulance. However, this is not covered by health insurance and costs in the region of 300 shekels (about 60 pounds). And even then it would be a back-to-back arrangement. That means being driven by ambulance to the checkpoint and picked up by an ambulance on the other side. Queuing and walking through are thus not avoided by taking an ambulance. One of the claims made when Israel entered the Red Cross and Crescent network was that Red Crescent ambulances would then be able to cross checkpoints. But it has not turned out to be the case.
So, another task falls to this Jerusalem mother and busy professional. The exterior of the hospital building itself is beautiful and refurbishment is going on inside. The imaging unit is busy today. I sit and chat with Auntie while my host sorts out a bit of paperwork. And then we take our leave of Auntie and drive to Al-Makassed. I forget to ask how she is going to get back home.
Yesterday I spent the day in the Old City with my cousin, who has moved to Israel relatively recently. First thing, we headed out for breakfast at a cafe, where we had a long discussion about the….well, what is the appropriate euphemism? “The situation” is the phrase that seems to fall easily from the lips. It sounds so much nicer than the systematic denial of human rights to Palestinians, and a lot shorter to say too.
My cousin describes himself as “not a zionist” – meaning something like “not ideologically committed the State of Israel”. (perhaps he will comment and clarify – he knows I am planning to blog our conversation, though a verbatim account is too hard). He was part of the c. 5% of Jewish Israelis who opposed the attack on Gaza in Dec 2008-Jan 2009 at the time. On the other hand, he is a pragmatist. Since Israel exists already, and regardless of any historic wrongs involved in creating a majority Jewish state on a territory that was majority non-Jewish, whatever “solution” to the “situation” must recognize this fact. Two states would, from his perspective, be ideal. Though getting there is very complicated, very messy. The crazy settlers, the extremists, manipulate the state and the government to their own ends. Lots of equivalences between Jewish Israelis and Palestinians are drawn. Most people just want peace and security and a good life. It is a long and complex discussion and I don’t have time to do it justice here. My cousin is very liberal, very open-minded, a good man, a kind person. He voted for war criminal Tzipi Livni. Just on pragmatic grounds, tactically, to avoid someone more right-wing (Bibi). It did not work. I am, internally, pretty appalled. It seems to me something like voting for UKIP to keep out the BNP.
If I were voting in Israeli elections I could not vote for a party that defined itself as representing Jewish interests. It would be like voting for a party in the UK that defined itself as representing white interests. I might give my vote to Hadash – a left party that actively seeks to gain both Jewish and Palestinian votes. On the other hand, I would not move here. To exercise that right when Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria cannot….when Palestinians in the occupied territory have no vote for the government that actually controls their lives…I could not do it. It sounds moralistic to say so. I understand my cousin’s reasons for moving here. Yet, how is it possible for one to be ‘not a zionist’ when the very privilege exercised in claiming citizenship is based on the dispossession of other people, both physical and political?
I find the discussion more difficult than I had expected and I dwell on it afterwards, find I am still dwelling on it now. “It’s all so complicated, so messy”. I hear the same sentiment again from someone else at a baby naming celebration in the evening. Well, yes. Anything with history is complicated. Anything with numerous actors and interests and objectives is messy. But at the same time, it is a great alibi for complacency, for inaction, a kind of verbal shrug…