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A Color-Coded Citizenship

The basic organizational connection between the state and its constituents, or citizens, is the citizenship framework. Citizenship is traditionally seen as the intersection between identity and law; expressing both national belonging and legally recognized state membership, it is often understood as a way of claiming rights, privileges, and freedoms granted by state institutions. Citizenship as an institution entails access to public goods and services, as well as involvement in state institutions. Indeed, citizenship has emerged as a key issue, not just in terms of practical political issues like health care, education, public programs, and the welfare state, but also in terms of legal jurisdiction and social membership. 

Categorization and exclusion

The Israeli military’s color-coded identification system, which was enhanced in 1981 through its Civil Administration branch, has clearly segregated Palestinians and governed their lives. Israel has issued various identity cards as a means of categorization and exclusion. Its control over the Palestinian population is based on a color-coded ID system divided geographically into two types: the Jerusalem ID, which is issued for those born in Jerusalem, and the Israeli ID, also known as the 1948 ID, which is issued to those born within the 1948 borders of Israel. The main distinction is that only those who hold a 1948 ID have an Israeli passport and are consequently considered Israeli citizens by the state. 

Each group is assigned a different color. For example, Palestinians residing in East Jerusalem have blue identity cards; these are similar to Israeli identity cards, but have a different series number and no nationality listed. Initially, anyone born inside the 1967 borders of the West Bank was given a West Bank ID card and was required to carry an orange ID card. But the orange ID card was replaced by a green Palestinian Identity Card after the Oslo Accords and the formation of the Palestinian Authority. However, Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip who chose to work in Israel needed to have Israeli magnetic IDs. It is not recommended for anyone to try to cross checkpoints without a valid identification card. A holder of a West Bank ID card can travel only within the West Bank and is required to carry their ID at all times.

The lack of formal nationality

Immediately following the 1967 war, Israel’s military forces considered the occupied territories as closed territories. This meant that Palestinian residents were required to get permits in order to enter or leave. Palestinians who were abroad at the time of the second population census were not included in the count and, therefore, were not issued identification cards.

The situation is more confusing for Arab Jerusalemites, who have a laissez-passer, (French for “travel document”) instead of an Israeli passport, which limits their mobility. 

Thousands of Palestinians who live in Jerusalem have Israeli residency cards, which are conditional, and as a result they lack formal nationality. Despite the fact that they have temporary Jordanian passports (as do all Palestinians living in the West Bank), they are in Israel’s custody and have no connections to Jordan. This is because there is still much debate over Jerusalem and who controls it. With regard to the differences in rights, only those who possess a 1948 ID card have the right to vote and, therefore, can be elected to the Israeli Knesset.

Jerusalem (blue) ID cardholders always worry about having their residency revoked. Living in the occupied territories outside of Jerusalem is sufficient for Israel to cancel the residency. Those who have moved out of the country face an even more difficult scenario. If they do not return for a visit within seven years, their IDs will be suspended, making it impossible for them to return home.

A legalized discrimination

The fact that Israel’s inequitable system favors Jewish Israelis and treats citizens unequally has been well documented and discussed by a large body of academic research. Many scholars and researchers argue that Jewish Israeli privilege and authority stretches across the State of Israel and the occupied territories, regardless of actual citizenship or legal provenance. Discrimination against Palestinians is reflected in Israeli legislation, policies, and speeches.

In order to maintain this system of dominance and exclusion, the classification of Israel’s non-Jewish citizens into various legal categories continues. All Palestinian-Arabs living under Israeli authority are divided into different categories, each with its own set of privileges and protections depending on the geographical location.

Majd Salfity