Why is my family locked out? Conditions of Palestinian statelessness

Suheir Azzouni for Equality Now – WNN SOAPBOX

Three women sit at the Israeli checkpoint at between Bethlehem and Jerusalem
Three Palestinian Muslim women sit together as they wait at the Israeli checkpoint between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Palestinians who come from diverse religious backgrounds, including Christianity, who have had their ‘permanent resident’ status changed because they have lived outside the district of the City of Jerusalem, now face conditions that restrict them from even a visit to their family homeland. Becausse they are no longer considered full citizens of Jerusalem by the Israeli Ministry of Interior they are forced to be paperless (without a country or homeland region). Image: Nikky Hodgson/The Advocacy Project

(WNN/EN) Paris, FRANCE, WESTERN EUROPE: Last month, my family and I went back home to Palestine for summer vacation. Five days into the vacation, the Israeli Ministry of Interior (MoI) handed us documents expelling us from our country, leaving us to face statelessness and exile. We are now in France, appealing our case, still in sharp pain, indignant about this injustice, and fearful about our future.

Our attorney hopes to convince the MoI to reverse its decision on revoking our “permanent resident” status in East Jerusalem, where my husband was raised and my children were born. Should MoI insist on its decision, two of our three children would end up stateless and passport-less. This will also mean that our family will not be able to live in, or possibly visit, our homeland again.

Israel imposed the “permanent resident” status on the Palestinians in East Jerusalem when it occupied and illegally, unilaterally annexed the city in June 1967 – thus not observing its obligations as an occupying power with regards to the provisions of international law, according to which Palestinian East Jerusalemites are not merely “residents” but are also “protected persons” who are entitled to continue living in their country.

My husband’s roots run deep in Jerusalem. His ancestral family (Mahshi) has lived in the city for centuries. It is still recognized by the Greek Orthodox Church as one of thirteen prominent families within its congregation in Jerusalem. On important occasions, like Holy Fire Saturday, the family is called upon to carry a banner in front of the Patriarch in processions through the city streets.

My husband grew up in the Old City and was living there when Israel occupied it. Until 1994, he was involved in joint Israeli-Palestinian activities to realize a two-state solution and a just and lasting peace based on UN resolutions. He, also, contributed to Palestinian statehood through the development of educational institutions and was a member of the team which established the first Palestinian Ministry of Education. His work was recognized by many, including France which decorated him with the “Palmes Academiques” in 1993 and granted him French nationality in 2010. In 2001, he was offered a job at UNESCO where he presently holds a senior management position.

In 2001, our three children and I joined my husband in Paris, where we still reside. Triggered by the fact that my husband was granted French nationality, Israel expelled our family based on its policy of “center of life” which it consistently applies to Palestinian Jerusalemites living and working outside the city, thus rendering them stateless. It is thus denying us our human right to travel, pursue our professional development and careers, and return to our country.

My own roots also run deep in Jerusalem. The families of my paternal and maternal grandmothers are two of the thirteen Greek Orthodox families mentioned above. Many of my years were spent struggling for gender equality in Palestinian society.

In 1994, I established the executive offices of the Women’s Affairs Technical Committee, a coalition of women’s organizations which was effective in reversing a number of discriminatory regulations against women. When my husband joined UNESCO, I stayed behind until I felt it was unwise to keep the family separated. Less than three years after the children and I joined him, I discovered that I had breast cancer. Had I stayed behind in Palestine, I would have not been able to receive the necessary medical treatment and I would not have been around today.

I am presently under constant medical surveillance and treatment. Despite my health situation, I continued with my work on gender equality with a number of organizations, many of which are in Jerusalem, hoping to witness a better future for our younger women during my remaining years. How ironic it is that despite my life’s work on gender equality, I am presently subjected to gender-based discrimination: revoking my rights to live in my country because my husband was granted French nationality. My children, who are pursuing their studies, are also denied their right of choice to return to their country.

We hope that Israel will demonstrate its seriousness in the ongoing negotiations through halting its inhumane policies which threaten people’s existence and enjoyment of basic human rights. Like all the peoples of the world, we have the right to go back to our home and country. We yearn to continue to work for peace, to live in our homeland and retire in peace.


Suheir Azzouni is the former Director General of the Women’s Affairs Technical Committee (WATC), a highly esteemed Palestinian coalition NGO working towards eliminating discrimination against women and establishing a democratic society that respects human rights. She was instrumental in developing WATC from a voluntary organization in 1992 to one of the largest and most effective NGOs in Palestine today, and successfully led efforts to reverse several pieces of legislation discriminating against women and helping to mainstream gender in Palestinian society. Currently Azzouni is the Gender Consultant for ActAlliance – DanChurchAid, a Danish NGO dedicated to “strengthening the world’s poorest people in their struggle for a life in dignity.”


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