Abu Issa is a 77-year-old refugee living in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Al 'Isawiya, home to approximately 13,500 Palestinians. Unlike many of his neighbors who hold an East Jerusalem ID, Abu Issa and his family hold a West Bank ID, despite being born in Al 'Isawiya —endangering their ability to remain in their homes on the Jerusalem side of the Barrier.
Next door lives one of his sons and his family of eight—also West Bank ID holders. During the census taken after the 1967 war, Abu Issa and his family had taken up temporary residency in Ramallah after leaving their home due to the conflict, only to return to their home in Al 'Isawiya as outsiders. The status families were given in 1967 is passed down through the generations, requiring Abu Issa’s family to list an address in Ramallah despite the fact that their birth certificates were issued in Jerusalem in order to be issued an ID card at all.
“We are not only outsiders living between the West Bank and Israel, but we feel also as outsiders in our own town – we are different,” laments Abu Issa.
The Barrier changed everything for Abu Issa. Ever since its construction in the area, Abu Issa’s family has been physically isolated from the rest of the West Bank.
Their precarious residency status means that they are now afraid to leave their home for fear that they will not be able to return home again.
Recently, Abu Issa’s grandson was picked up by the Israeli Security Forces and threatened with deportation to the other side of the Barrier with no legal means of return. This threat was only suspended after the intervention of his grandfather and subsequent extensive negotiations.
Unfortunately, this was not an isolated event: Abu Issa's family members, including his wife, are threatened with expulsion on an average of every six months. “This is why we stay in the house where we are tolerated, but rarely venture outside.”
”Our health has deteriorated since the completion of the Barrier,” Abu Issa continued. “We can no longer get to the healthcare on the 'West Bank side’ of the Barrier and have no medical insurance, making healthcare more expensive on the Jerualem side.” The family also has to bear the burden of a severely handicapped grandchild and the high costs that their care entails.
The Barrier has also led to the fragmentation of ties for Abu Issa’s family. The last time he was able to see his two daughters living on the 'West Bank side’ of the Barrier was two years ago, as strict travel regulations imposed on West Bank ID holders by Israeli Authorities state that they can no longer legally visit the family home in which they grew up in Jerusalem.
“I had the 'opportunity’ to be sick enough to receive a one-day medical visitor permit, which allowed me to travel across the Barrier and return through the checkpoint to Jerusalem in order to receive medical treatment there. This has been the only time in the last two years that I have been able to see my daughters.”
“We have been hoping since the year 2000 to receive at least residency permits, if not Jerusalemite identity cards. However, so far we have been unsuccessful”.
Abu Issa continues to live in a state of constant uncertainty, not knowing what the future holds for him and his family.