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'If I gave up Jerusalem for the UK, a settler would take my place'

After moving to the UK to complete a master’s degree, Jerusalemite Hana Alamleh refused to find a job and settle in Europe, choosing to return to her home to protect it from settlers
Palestinian Jerusalemite Hana Alamleh visits the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound for the first time since her return to Jerusalem from the UK.
Palestinian Jerusalemite Hana Alamleh visits the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound for the first time since her return to Jerusalem from the UK

On Wednesday 29 September, Jerusalemite Hana Alamleh was packing her bags for her journey back to Palestine after having stayed a year in the United Kingdom. The 24-year-old was awarded the Said Foundation scholarship to pursue her master's degree in sociolinguistics at Essex University in the 2020/2021 academic year.

For young Palestinians, leaving for Europe is a golden opportunity to escape violence and unrest in the occupied Palestinian territories and plan for their future. Hana was an exception.

Originally from the Shuafat neighbourhood of occupied East Jerusalem, which is entirely under Israel's sovereignty, Hana's family lives in a rented home in Jerusalem. Roughly half of her father's income is used to pay the rent, another quarter is paid to the Israeli government as "real estate tax", whatever is left is spent on providing for the family.

"In light of my family's financial difficulties, I was forced to work as a private tutor eight hours a day after college to help with the family's expenses," Hana explains.

READ: Settlers, Israel army chop down Palestinian almond trees in West Bank

As a direct consequence of the occupation, Arabs are paid less than Jewish staff members in Israel. Those who wish to be treated equally must go through a painstaking process at the Ministry of Finance, or work towards becoming Israeli citizens. Hana's family refuse to do this.

Deputy Director of Islamic Waqf (Endowment) of Jerusalem, Sheikh Najeh Bkirat, tells MEMO that for Jerusalemites, obtaining Israeli citizenship is an "explicit recognition" of the occupation state's sovereignty over East Jerusalem, and it "abolishes the Palestinian identity".

"Israel is a mere occupying power to East Jerusalem," he explains.

"Israeli law should be applied equally to Arab and Jewish residents of Israel, but there is a state-led discriminatory behaviour against Arabs," Hana adds.

As her father holds only a temporary permit to stay in Jerusalem, he is banned from health insurance, entering some Israeli cities, driving inside Jerusalem and holding a high-profile job.

READ: Settler violence is a 'major informal tool' Israel uses to drive Palestinians out of their land, B'Tselem says

It is not only Jerusalemites who are restricted, Israeli occupation forces have put in place checkpoints, road blocks and other controls to govern Palestinian movement in the occupied West Bank.

While pursuing her undergraduate degree at Birzeit University near the West Bank city of Ramallah, Hana was repeatedly delayed at Israeli checkpoints for hours. There, she had to undergo rigorous security checks and was ordered to take off some of her clothes and jewellery in public.

It depends on the mood of the Israeli soldier…Once a pregnant Palestinian lady delivered her baby in a vehicle after being arbitrarily held at the Israeli checkpoint.

Later, to pursue her studies in the UK, Hana had to obtain a travel document from the Israeli Ministry of Interior and attend an interview with an Israeli police officer. There she was asked: "What is your nationality?"

Hana: "Palestinian."

Israeli officer: "Is Jerusalem an Israeli territory?"

Hana: "No, it is the capital of Palestine."

As a result of her responses, Hana says, the officer issued her travel documents with her name misspelt and her race listed as "without nationality". She eventually applied for a student visa and opened a bank account in the UK using Jordanian travel documents.

Hana Alamleh on a journey to Edinburgh during her time in the UK.

Hana Alamleh on a journey to Edinburgh during her time in the UK.

While in the UK, Hana experienced a different life, she was able to travel directly to her destination without stopping at checkpoints, seeing heavily armed, hostile soldiers, or being humiliated because she is an Arab.

On her way back to Jerusalem, however, the ill treatment returned and she was interrogated at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport. "Being an Arab was good reason for Israeli soldiers to humiliate me at the airport. They checked everything I carried, even my sanitary products," Hana explains.

Asked why she returned to Jerusalem, Hana says: "I had a profound belief that if I leave Jerusalem, Israeli settlers will take my place. I rejected my potential in the UK in favour of Jerusalem, my land and my grandfathers' land."

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