Today, amid great official fanfare, the Trump administration will move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the city where I was born, began my medical career, and which, like millions of other Palestinians, I am barred from entering today.
When he announced the move last November, President Trump broke with the international community and 70 years of official United States policy, which was to hold off recognizing the sovereignty of any country over any part of Jerusalem prior to a peace agreement. In effect, he gave Israel a green light to continue deepening its control over occupied Palestinian East Jerusalem and accelerate its efforts to drive Palestinian Jerusalemites from their homes so that Jewish illegal settlers can live in their place.
To add insult to injury, the embassy will be inaugurated the day before Palestinians commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Nakba (“catastrophe” in Arabic), when some three-quarters of a million Palestinians were expelled from their homes during Israel’s establishment. In a fitting bit of symbolism, it will be located partly on private Palestinian land that was confiscated by Israel in violation of international law.
I was born in the Old City of East Jerusalem in 1954, when it was under Jordanian control. When I was an infant, my family lived in Ramallah for my father’s work, but I returned to Jerusalem following my studies to do my postgraduate medical training and begin my career at Maqased Hospital, where I spent 15 years working in internal medicine.
As an activist involved in politics and human-rights work, I often faced repression at the hands of Israel’s occupying army in Jerusalem. In 2002, I organized a press conference for members of the European Union parliament to draw attention to Israel’s abuses of Palestinian rights in the city. For my trouble, I was arrested, beaten, and had my knee broken with a rifle butt. When I ran for president of the Palestinian Authority in 2005, I was arrested several times as I tried to campaign in Jerusalem. Since 2005, Israel has forbidden me from entering and I can only access the city of my birth by sneaking in.
Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital will worsen the plight of Palestinians in the city and beyond. More Palestinian families will be evicted from their homes, more Palestinian Jerusalemites will have their residency rights revoked, illegal Jewish-only settlements will continue to expand on Palestinian land, and the majority of Palestinians will continue to be denied entry to Jerusalem, which plays such a central role in Palestinian culture, history, and identity.
Moving the embassy to Jerusalem won’t make it easier to achieve peace, as Trump has ludicrously asserted. But hopefully it will force a moment of clarification and acknowledgment that the Oslo Accords and the two-state solution are dead, killed by relentless Israeli settlement construction and other unilateral actions designed to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state in the occupied territories—especially in and around East Jerusalem.
Together, Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have bulldozed what remains of the US-sponsored negotiation process that began more than a quarter of a century ago with the signing of the Oslo Accords. It is time for the world to recognize that Israel’s more than 50-year military rule over Palestinians in the occupied territories is not temporary. It is an apartheid regime in which there are two separate and unequal systems of law and governance based on religion.
To replace this discriminatory regime, we need a new paradigm based on full national and civil equality for all who live in this land—a paradigm in which Israelis and Palestinians can live together in freedom, with justice for all and without any form of discrimination.
To achieve this, the Palestine Liberation Organization should adopt a new strategy in order to change the balance of power on the ground and help people remain steadfast in the face of Israel’s attempts to remove them. It should strengthen support for the grassroots popular nonviolent resistance that has been taking place on a regular basis in the occupied territories for more than 16 years, and which was used so effectively during the First Intifada. And it should throw its full weight behind the global boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement for Palestinian rights.
Crucially, we must also heal the debilitating political rift between Fatah and Hamas, which has been so devastating to the Palestinian national struggle over the past decade and more. I have been personally involved in reconciliation efforts and believe they can succeed if there is a will. We will never gain our freedom as long as we are divided.
Seventy years after the mass expulsion of Palestinians during Israel’s establishment, Palestinians continue to resist Israel’s attempts to dispossess them and to deny our right to return to lands we were driven from. Witness the tremendous enthusiasm for the Gaza Return March over the past month, with thousands upon thousands of participants braving deadly Israeli sniper fire to peacefully demand their rights.
Despite Israel’s best efforts, we aren’t going anywhere, and we will never accept being slaves under its oppressive military rule. We will continue working for our freedom until we achieve it. In the meantime, I look forward to the day when I can once again travel freely with my daughter to the city where I was born, and which is so close to my heart and to the hearts of all Palestinians.