Filmmaker: Bilal Yousef
Eeking out a living as a taxi driver in the Middle East is not for the faint-hearted, especially for Palestinian cabbies in Jerusalem.
“It’s exhausting, kind of humiliating,” says Salah Najib, a former civil engineer-turned cabbie. “You try to please your passengers as much as possible so they continue riding with you.”
At one point, he successfully built up a fleet of cars but his business was destroyed in 2000 due to the deteriorating security situation resulting from the Palestinian second Intifada.
Like drivers everywhere, Jerusalem’s Palestinian cabbies can face unruly passengers – but they face hardships simply because they’re Palestinian.
Jerusalem is one of the most heavily disputed places in the world, not least because it is sacred to Islam, Judaism and Christianity.
Divided into occupied East and West Jerusalem since the first Arab-Israeli war and the founding of Israel in 1948, the East has been under Israeli occupation since the further conflict in the June 5, 1967 six-day war.
Throughout its 70-year existence, Israel has almost always been able to rely on the support of the United States, despite UN and international condemnation of its policy of expanding illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank. Under President Donald Trump, the US recognised Israeli control over Jerusalem in December 2017.
The city’s Arab taxi drivers are used to discrimination and sometimes harassment. Innate Palestinian resilience is what motivates Bassem Idris to work as a cabbie in Jerusalem.
“I feel like a stranger in my own homeland,” he says. “I sometimes meet foreigners who think Arabs don’t exist here. Such matters make us want to stay here even more. This is my homeland and I want to stay here.”
Used to wrangling with those of opposing political views, he enjoys educating tourists on the plight of Palestinians.
Similarly, 61-year-old cabbie Rasheed Rishq also takes pride in his work, seeing himself as “the country’s ambassador”. He’s been doing that for 40 years. “A taxi driver is the keeper of the town’s secrets. If you want to announce any news, just pass it to a cab driver. An hour later, everyone will know the news. He knows the country’s economic and social affairs. He spends all day listening to the radio.”
Rasheed has diabetes and cholesterol problems, partly because of work stress – but considers himself lucky to live close to Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre: “I personally will not leave this house till I die. My children will be responsible for it after my death.”
Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, passed a law in March 2018 granting the interior minister full power to revoke the Jerusalem residencies of Palestinians over allegations of “breaching allegiance” or “loyalty” to the Israeli state, as reported by Al Jazeera.
Human rights groups have raised serious concerns over the new law, finding the legislation a clear breach of international law and challenging the basic rights of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, since Israeli can revoke Jerusalem residency ID cards at any time.
In 2017, Israel has revoked the residency of 35 Palestinians in East Jerusalem, including 17 women and four minors, according to the Israeli rights group, Hamoked. Since 1967, almost 15,000 Palestinians have had their Jerusalem IDs revoked, mostly for failing to prove to Israeli authorities that Jerusalem or Israel was the centre of their life.
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