Review of Identity

Palestinian elderly woman screams as the Israeli troops invade the neighborhood during a military operation in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, November 3, 2006. (MaanImages/Magnus Johansson)

Mary: Why don’t you buy a car and get an international driving license? We are having a month-long permit to visit Jerusalem and now we cannot find a taxi driver who is going to bring us with my mother, who does not walk easily, to Jerusalem. The taxi drivers are all busy. Only a few have permits and the right licenses.

Toine: Do you know what I read in an email here? Persons driving a yellow-plate Israeli car cannot anymore take Palestinians from the West Bank as passengers. So if I am going to rent a car in Jerusalem and come over here into Bethlehem, I will refuse you on behalf of the Israeli army the privilege of sharing my car.

Mary: My dear husband, you forget that I am also an international. Thanks to my father, who was born in Chile, I now got a Chilean passport. Don’t think that you can refuse me, mister.

Toine: No, that Chilean passport does not work. You don’t have a tourist visa on your passport. So at the checkpoint they know that you are hiding your Palestinian passport. Don’t you remember that lately they warned you at the checkpoint not to apply that trick with the Chilean passport anymore?

Mary: Maybe there are other tricks… What about dyeing my hair blond, to look like a foreigner. Waving with my passport, conquering checkpoints. Wow! That’s what I am dreaming about. Or I’ll arrange a fake marriage with a taxi driver from Jerusalem, who has a blue ID. They can go anywhere. Freedom!

Toine: You can marry as much as you like, but you will still have your West Bank ID. Did you think that when you marry with somebody from East-Jerusalem or a Palestinian with an Israeli passport, you can move to East-Jerusalem or Israel? Forget it. The Palestinian taxi driver is maybe allowed to stay with you in Bethlehem. Even that is far from sure. You’ve heard about the case of a Palestinian from the West Bank and a Palestinian from Israel who were married and who could meet each other only at the checkpoint. So, you will not be able to enter Jerusalem or Israel, with whomever you marry, and whatever passport you are waving. You will enter only with a special permit which you can request from your parish in advance of the Christian holidays. Go and queue when it is Easter.

Mary: Chalas [enough]. I just give up my Palestinian ID. Then I will be a Chilean. No Palestinian anymore, even though I like Palestine. Just like you I’ll enter as tourist and go the country out and in, every three months. And come everywhere I like. Oh, that taste of freedom!

Toine: Yes, do you think that it is easy to enter the country as a Palestinian with a foreign passport? One after the other is refused entry to Israel or the West Bank. Your sister Norma has a French passport and she could reach Bethlehem two years ago only after two days imprisonment at the airport and being escorted by a car of the French embassy. Great! You’ll be a VIP!

Mary: Hey, wait a minute. There is maybe another trick. I’ll just convert myself to become a Jew. Yes, that’s the solution! You should do that too. No problems anymore. You’ll automatically get an Israeli passport and can live wherever you want. Yes, that’s it!

Toine: Forget it. Then you are allowed to speed on those apartheid highways in the West Bank, but you will not be allowed by the Israeli government to anymore enter Bethlehem. They do that for your own safety. Palestinians from Israel, I think, can however enter Bethlehem; lately during Christmas there were tourists coming from Nazareth.

By the way, do you know that joke about three Palestinians who decide to become rabbis to get rid of their problems? To their surprise they all three were admitted to the yeshiva. One after the other wrestled himself through the rabbinical literature. Surprise, surprise, the three of them succeeded in all their exams. At the end they faced the most difficult test. They had to swim 500 meter. Two of the three reached the finish line. The third, far behind, was struggling to stay afloat. The first future rabbi told the second: “What shall we do? Shall we save him?” His companion hesitated, and then said: “No, better not. After all, he’s an Arab!”

The Palestinian who told this joke to an Israeli, said that the Israeli immediately changed “Palestinians” by “Jews” and “rabbis” by “priests”, and then had to laugh even louder.

In other words, you are who you are, whether you like it or not.

Mary: You’d better keep your jokes for yourself. Try at least to solve your own problem. Why don’t you become a Palestinian, at least you can share the privilege of being safe in my prison, instead of becoming nervous at the borders every three months.

Toine: Great to become a Palestinian, but you very well know that since September 2000 all applications for family reunification between Palestinian ID holders and internationals are not accepted. No, I should say it more precisely: You can submit them, the filled-in forms are accepted, but you’ll never get answer.

Mary: Now, let me at least going to renew my own passport. So I can at least get out of the country. Oh, no, I forgot something. The Palestinian Ministry is on strike. Already for months. Oufff… The employees didn’t receive normal salaries for a year. So, let’s go and visit the neighbors.

P.S. After the Israeli army announced the order that drivers of Israeli cars are not allowed to carry Palestinian passport holders, in their turn Israeli peace organizations and Palestinians announced an action to massively break the rule. In the spirit of Rosa Sparks who did not got up. Immediately afterwards the implementation of the order was suspended, but the order itself not rescinded.

Toine van Teeffelen is development director of the Arab Educational Institute (AEI-Open Windows) in Bethlehem.