An open letter to Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.
Your excellence, I am a Palestinian woman; a wife, a mother who juggles the responsibilities of home and career. I live deep within the ancient walls of Jerusalem's Old City, in the heart of this beautiful but tortured place. And I have a bone to pick with you.
Last week your government's Attorney General, George Brandis took it upon himself to refute what international law and UN resolutions have clearly confirmed, that East Jerusalem is an occupied city. You, Minister Bishop, concurred, maintaining that, "Occupied East Jerusalem is a term freighted with pejorative implications, which is neither appropriate nor useful" and deciding that 'the description of areas which are subject to negotiations in the course of the peace process by reference to historical events is unhelpful."
Allow me to explain what is unhelpful: being denied the right to travel freely between cities, to have permanent residency in my own home, to be deprived of my national identity, to be denied fair legal recourse and to live in a free and independent homeland. That is what it means to live under Israeli occupation, and I assure you, Ms. Bishop, East Jerusalem is occupied, par excellence.
Barring the fact that the entire international community including Israel's most dedicated ally, the United States, recognizes East Jerusalem as occupied territory, captured along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967, let me offer you a humble snapshot of life under Israeli occupation.
My neighborhood, tucked away deep within the Old City is a microcosm of life in East Jerusalem and provides the perfect example of how Israel's occupation imposes itself on each and every aspect of our lives.
Only yesterday morning, our 17-year old neighbor was dragged out of his home, handcuffed by Israeli police. His house searched and his family harassed before he was carted off for interrogation and possible detention. Mohammed is in his last year of high school and will lose the year if he does not sit for his matriculation exam. But this is not Israel's concern. He will stand before an Israeli military court as an adult, not a child, because Israeli military orders deem Palestinian children as young as 12 a security threat.
According to DCI-Palestine statistics there were at least 31 cases of child detention in East Jerusalem in 2012. "Of those, 97 percent experienced physical abuse and 90 percent were subjected to intimidation and humiliation," the organization said.
On the western side of Jerusalem, just across the invisible but very palpable seam-line that separates East from West, I assure you Minister Bishop, this would never happen. You see, West Jerusalem is not occupied and Jerusalem is not united, like Israel would have you believe. Its eastern sector is mostly Palestinian-populated [pocked of course with the tens of thousands of Jewish settlements and enclaves illegally established on this occupied land]. And the difference is as stark as day and night.
Minister Bishop, international laws and resolutions are put in place for a reason. I am sure you respect that. East Jerusalem has always been considered an occupied city according to international law and Israel is obliged to withdraw from all territories it occupied during the June 1967 War.
It is irrelevant that Israel unilaterally annexed the eastern sector of the city after that war, declaring it the unified capital of Israel. Nobody recognizes this. Not the United States and I hope not Australia. The fact remains that there is nothing unified about it.
I have lived in this city for over 16 years, have borne two children in it and for all practical purposes, consider it my home. You will be surprised to know that Israel has yet to recognize my right to live here. Like tens of thousands of other Palestinians living in Jerusalem, I have not been given permanent residence and therefore have no rights in it. I cannot drive, I cannot [officially] work, I am not eligible for national insurance and health insurance is riddled with complications. I must produce irrevocable evidence that I live in Jerusalem each year at the Israeli interior ministry just to be given a one-year permit to stay in the city. If I were Jewish, I would be automatically granted citizenship by means of Israel's Return Law. Instead I am a statistic, an invisible Palestinian. Surely you can recognize that these are not the policies of a democratic country that treats all of its residents equally.
The bottom line is this, minister Bishop. What is "unhelpful" is not calling East Jerusalem occupied, but endorsing an occupation that is illegal, illegitimate and immoral by all standards. Australia needs to be part of the solution, not the problem and statements such as the ones coming out of its government have served the contrary.
Do not be on the wrong side of history. If you are truly a proponent of peace, you will take a stance. My children and those children whose homes have been demolished, who have been beaten, arrested and harassed by Israel's military machine, deserve to live freely. Not only does the world have a responsibility to call East Jerusalem occupied, it has an even bigger moral responsibility to end the occupation that has destroyed so much of its grandeur. Hasn't Israel acted with impunity long enough?