Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Can't Tell the Players without the Cards - Our Teu'dot Zehut

Yesterday's Haaretz reported another bright moment in Israel's quest for equality: Interior Minister Eli Yishai is planning to reinstate the nationality section to te'udot zehut - identification cards. Since 2002, the place for le'um - nationality - has appeared only with a line of asterisks.

Up until 2002, all cards, for Israeli citizens, issued by the Ministry of Interior carried one's nationality (e.g. Jewish, Arab), but the Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee canceled the nationality clause after the High Court ordered the Ministry to also classify Reform and Conservative Jews as Jewish. Yishai, an ultra Orthodox Jew, who was the minister of the department at the time, announced he would not comply with the ruling and a compromise was reached - to leave it blank.

There are two main reasons that have been given for reinstatement of the nationality on the card: (1) many people still have their nationality listed in their IDs, since they have not renewed them since 2002. And, according to the Ministry of Interior, many people - including Holocaust survivors - do not want to renew since it is important for them that their Jewish nationality be stamped in the card; (2) in general, "it  is important for people's sense of belonging and part of their national identity."

As the newspaper reports, it will not be easy to reinstate the nationality clause; the Justice Department is opposing the move, and the Reform movement is threatening to go to the High Court. Rabbi Gilad Kariv, who heads the Reform movement, has come out against the change, seeing it as a ploy to prevent recognition of Reform and Conservative Jews. As he stated: "The transparent...use of Holocaust survivors as an excuse for the plan only shows how low Yishai is ready to stoop in his struggle with the Reform communities ... We call on the prime minister to stop Yishai from spreading fire… and not to create unnecessary rifts and disagreements among the Jewish people."

The fight over the notation of nationality - le'um - is taking place among Jews. Those who hold the blue te'udot zehut as citizens of the country (important to note that Palestinian and other Israeli citizens also have these blue cards). And it is an important fight, for it highlights the ongoing conflict between the religious/political leaders who cannot comprehend separating being Jewish from the State, and it shows that we continue to make internal - and unnecessary and dangerous - divisions, with some people belonging more and others belonging less. Therefore, it's good that this issue is out in the open so that we can (try to) keep the asterisks...  

After all, at least formally, all the carriers of blue te'udot zehut are entitled to equal rights as citizens of the country. Let's not chip away at the equalities any more than we already have.  

In spite of the fact that blue reigns, we have some other colors as well. 

For example, East Jerusalemites (read Palestinians) have blue identity cards similar to our Israeli ones, but they follow a different number series and they list no nationality. In the past, Palestinians in the West Bank had orange ID cards. After the Oslo Agreements, when the Palestinian Authority was formed, the orange card was replaced by a green Palestinian Identity Card. Palestinians from the Occupied Territories, however, who wish to work in Israel, also have to obtain Israeli magnetic IDs - not an easy process.

And Jewish settlers who were removed from the Gush Katif area in Gaza also made their own orange teudat toshav (resident document), which had stamped on it "Greater Israel"

The quest for better identity cards knows few bounds. In 2005 the Israeli Civil Administration in the occupied territories began issuing Palestinians with a new type of magnetic card that contains biometric identification techniques - face-prints, handprints, eye-prints and fingerprints. People who manage to obtain such cards, only need to swipe the card when they go through the checkpoints. This cuts down the need for physical contact between the green/orange Palestinians and the blue Israelis.

So what do we have here: two similar but different blues, with or without list of nationality, one old Palestinian orange, one old Jewish-Gush Katif orange, a newer Palestinian green card and fancy shmancy super duper magnetic cards with all kinds of biometric information for our (lucky) Palestinian neighbors...

While we are on a color roll, I suggest implementing the following:
RED = stop the color coding which divides the area into those who belong and those who don't
YELLOW = caution for our divisive actions, which tend to disregard human and civil rights
GREEN = for going toward more equality
RAINBOW = for accepting all peoples of the region - Jews like this or that, Palestinians like this or that... etc... 

and trying to build a colorful society that does not see red when green Palestiniana and blue Israelis speak out against discrimination and oppression.   

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