Israel has many Arabic residents, most of whom have Israeli citizenship, East Jerusalem has many Arabic residents who do not have citizenship. Those without citizenship simply have an Israeli ID card. I will leave it to another blog to try and explain why that is. By contrast, just 7 miles to the south, Bethlehem resides inside the West Bank. Arabs who live here have Palestinian ID, not Israeli ID. Bethlehem is separated from Jerusalem by a security barrier.
I was staying in Bethlehem with a Palestinian Christian family for a few days at the end of my tour to get a picture of what life was like under occupation. They wanted to take me to their church, about 8 miles from Bethlehem. It was in Jerusalem, across a checkpoint. It was going to be an enlightening morning.
My host has Palestinian ID, his wife is an "Arab of '67" (that is what her husband calls her because her status was affected by the outcome of the 6 Day War in that year), she has Israeli ID. With this difference in ID status they face different sets of restrictions on their movements. For example, she cannot stay more than one night a week in Bethlehem without risking losing her Israeli ID card. He used to face a curfew in Jerusalem, being required to return home to Bethlehem before 7pm, this meant he could not stay with his wife. A few years ago a family reunification act relaxed the rules on the curfew so that he may now stay with his wife overnight in Jerusalem. This relaxed curfew only applies to Palestinian men over the age of 40. In addition, she can drive in Jerusalem, he cannot. It took me a while to understand all of this but they patiently explained it. If you are confused, you are in good company.
There is some benefit to his wife being the only one who can drive in Jerusalem. As we approach the checkpoint in Bethlehem they change sides and she begins to drive us to church. She gets out some sunglasses, large ones that cover her regular glasses. I think nothing of it, like I think nothing of the blue and white fluffy dice that hang in the windshield.
My host begins to explain, ”the soldiers seem to go easier when women are driving.”
“She wears the sunglasses because they make her look more like a Jewish lady. The dice are the colors of the Israeli Flag."
His wife adds, "it makes it easier sometimes."
We sail through the checkpoint today without being stopped. My host asks me not to tell anyone because people will think things are easier on them now and that anyone reading my blog will think there is no need to challenge the security barrier or checkpoints.
I am amazed he feels the need to say it, as though the inconvenience of checkpoints, living in a separate house from your spouse and not knowing whether you will lose rights for sleeping with your husband isn't indignity enough.
A few days later there would be a bomb on a bus in a suburb of Jerusalem near to one of the checkpoints. I went back to visit Bethlehem a few days later and had to go through a checkpoint with my hosts. The glasses and fluffy dice didn't work any more. Being stopped and having your car searched by armed soldiers is something I won't forget in a hurry.
From the UK, Matthew loved US culture from the first time he picked up a Fantastic Four Comic when he was 12.