Person Of The Book

Munther M. Fahmi, better known as Munzer to every visitor to the American Colony Hotel's bookshop, is a Jerusalem institution. You don't just go to his shop to buy; you go to talk about writing, writers and, of course, Middle East history, literature and politics.

Munzer's read what he recommends. He organizes meetings at the hotel to launch books by local peace advocates. Authors hang out to learn about each other's love affairs. They really hang out to earn his respect.

MUNZER WAS BORN in Jerusalem in 1954. When Israelis conquered Jerusalem in 1967, he was given (like the rest of the Arab population in East Jerusalem) an Israeli resident ID card--not citizenship, but the right to live in the city of his birth. In 1975, Munzer left Jerusalem to continue his university education in the US, where he graduated, started a business, married, and fathered a child. In the mid-nineties, "intoxicated with prospects of peace after the signing of the Oslo agreement," Munzer flew home and was told at the airport in Tel-Aviv that his Jerusalem ID had been revoked. The only way he could enter then was as a tourist, with a stamp in his US passport. This has been going on ever since, and he's been getting a new stamp every three months.

"When the Israelis started giving me hard time entering and leaving the country as a tourist two years ago, and especially last month--when I was told that I will be only allowed to renter the country after this tourist visa expires on April 3rd is next year in April for 3 months only during that entire year--I started legal proceedings to re-capture my ID card back through a lawyer. This lawyer later told me that I was lied to in 1995 when I arrived and my Israeli blue ID card was still valid till it was finally revoked in 2002 while I was going and coming as a tourist!"

A year ago, Munzer took the Interior Ministry to court to reinstate his residency status. He lost. They invoked a law that strips any "resident of Jerusalem" who holds a foreign passport and has left for seven years of the right of residency. Note well: this law applies only to native born Arabs. I was myself a resident of Jerusalem in the 1970s, and left for more than seven years, but could easily return and even become a citizen. I was born in Montreal, not Jerusalem, and could return to Canada whenever I wanted.

MUNZER APPEALED TO the Supreme Court, and after four postponements of the court date, which required him to leave and come back to renew his tourist visa several times--each time at the mercy of a passport control guard--the date was set for Feb 17. The appeal was rejected out of hand. But, adding insult to injury, Munzer was told that he was lucky to have been able to come and go as a tourist that long, and even dare to start a business while still a tourist. "If this happened in your country," he was told, "you would be deported on the first plane."

Munzer reminded the judge that people born in the US do not have to go to the Supreme Court to ask immigration authorities to let them live there--a remark the judge took to be an impeachment of his judgment. The judge wrote, punitively, that Munzer should write a letter within 30 days to the same Interior Ministry he is suing, begging them to reinstate his residency.

The letter was duly sent on March 17. If the Interior Ministry rejects it, which it almost certainly will, Munzer will be deported on April 3rd.

IF ISRAEL WERE halfway serious about peace, the government would be inviting a thousand people like Munzer to build businesses, not deporting them. If people reading this were moved by simple justice, the Interior Ministry would be flooded with protests. But then, the Foreign Ministry will no doubt interpret my suggesting this as giving aid to the "campaign of delegitimization."