by Apo Sahagian
Sitting at the back of the bus, driving through a city center located in central Israel, I glimpse around at my fellow passengers, and a strange realization dawns on me: I am the only “Israeli” in the back rows. I use the term Israeli in caution and devoid of determination. As far as the State of Israel is concerned, I am not an Israeli. Despite my family’s presence in the land since 1921 (long before the establishment of Israel), and even though I am a born and bred Jerusalemite, in the eyes of the government I don’t belong. I am a prospective victim of a cunning policy practiced by Israel of ‘ridding’ itself from the ‘unwanted’. Am I using unnecessarily strong words? Maybe its time that somebody did.
I am not here to cry about all the atrocities Israel commits against the Palestinians. I’ve left that to the passionate critics: the idealists European lefties who vehemently shout for the freedom of Palestine (not knowing exactly what Palestine needs to be freed from- its not only the occupation), also to the political theatrics of Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan (who seems to not only overlook Turkey’s past crimes, but also the ongoing, present crimes), and last but not least, to the Israeli peace camp (a group of people which I admire for going against the apathy and ignorance of their society). These issues, I daresay, are worn-out clichés for me. I hear and see them daily, and disturbingly, they have become oblivious to my nature.
However, there is one issue that seems to be swept under the rug, when it should, in my humble opinion, be at center stage; it has all the dimensions of the occupation’s ills, and it affects me personally- thus, it being important on both counts. What issue could be of such weighty significance, you ask people of the good world? The self-deportation of East Jerusalemites. That’s right. I’m an East Jerusalemite, a legal term given to the non-Jewish population of Jerusalem whom are not citizens, but rather permanent residents of Israel. Do not be deceived by that subtly smart yet intrinsically empty input of permanent, because we are not. A stroll abroad for a few years can be a cause for Israel to revoke my permanent residency, effectively erasing my Jerusalemite identity and my claim to the home city.
Some have tended to call this slyness of state-policy a rather shifty interpretation of ‘ethnic cleansing’. But of course, using such a controversial phrase to describe the shrewd deed of Israel will naturally be taken as an insult by the government for binding them to genocidal attitudes. In light of such an accusation, I will refrain from concurring to that phrase (though I will give it a second thought later on after a cold glass of Jacky D.).
However I will not shun away from labeling this form of deportation as unspeakably repugnant, wickedness in all its essence, and utterly bothersome to my future plans. Since my great-grandfather accidentally found himself on the shores of Jaffa an almost-century ago after surviving the Armenian Genocide, I have been inflexibly resolute to return to the homeland of Armenia soon- a stretch of time that cannot be measure actually. But, in a foreseeable chance that my hopes in Armenia do not materialize, I need reassurance that the gates of the Old City of Jerusalem will be open to invite me back in to resume my life in the Armenian Quarter embraced by its ancient walls and narrow alleyways.
Many Jerusalemite Armenians before me have journeyed in search of the economical promises attractively murmured by the West, but have fallen to the painful slaps of a betraying reality and the subsequent comprehension that Israel will not allow them back to reclaim their Jerusalemite residency. My uncle, gone for 20 years, had to witness Israel denying his own existence after being caught by the U.S. immigration authorities. Ironically, Israel’s denial granted him the automatic possession of American citizenship, since the bewildered U.S. authorities did not know what to do exactly with a man whom had no address in another country.
True, East Jerusalemites with an Israeli passport/citizenship do not have the same looming obscurity of revoked residency, but I have always argued that the issue is not about the specificity of the document one holds. It is an issue of morality and principle. How can I keep silent when people are being deported unknowingly in hushed manner from their own homes? Can the sensible bunch of the international community really find a justifiable excuse for its indifferent composure and tacit conformity in such an appalling feat of refusing certain people re-entry into their homes?
As I sit in the back of the bus, casting quick coy glances at the Southeast Asian, African, and Russian immigrants crowding the rows, I stumble upon a sardonic thought: I am the only “Israeli”, yet in the eyes of Israel, I am just as foreign as they are-- but I still do enjoy decent health care.