BERLIN – "Do you see that bush there? I haven't ventured past it for two weeks," Firas Maraghy, a 39-year-old Palestinian from east Jerusalem, pointed to the corner of the closest street, across from the Israeli embassy in the Berlin's Grunwald neighborhood. During the day, he sits below a large tree. "And here," he gestures towards the sidewalk, he sleeps at night. This small area on a side street has become the scene of his hunger strike against the Israeli authorities.
"For two weeks I drank only water. I haven't yet passed out," he said. "I feel good overall. It has become easier with time, not eating."
Some of neighborhood's residents pass by him with their dogs; others walk their children to the nearby playground. Maraghy, surrounded by signs against Israel's Interior Ministry and in support of humanitarian rights, greets them. He even has a friendly relationship with the German police securing the embassy.
Firas in front of the embassy in Berlin (Photo: Assaf Uni)
Maraghy said he is tired of the convoluted laws that dictate the lives of Palestinians living in east Jerusalem. On a personal level, he is not willing to accept the Interior Ministry's refusal to grant him and his seven-month-old baby daughter Israeli travel documents.
He claims that the confluence between the general and personal is what has motivated him to launch his hunger strike. On July 26, he left his apartment in the Berlin suburbs and took up his position on the sidewalk in front of the Israeli embassy, where he has slowly but surely become a focus point of visits from leftists, Israelis, and Arabs.
As a resident of east Jerusalem, Maraghy has neither an Israeli nor a Palestinian passport. He is a permanent resident of Israel, and in order to leave the country, he was issued a laisse passé. In 2007, Maraghy married a German woman he met when he worked in Akim, and has been living with her in Berlin for the past two years. In May 2009, on a three-month visit to Israel, he went to the Interior Ministry in order to renew his travel documents and to register his wife on his identity card.
The Interior Ministry granted him a laisse passé until May 2011, but refused to register his wife. Maraghy claims that he was told at this time that he must live in Jerusalem for a minimum of a year and a half if he wishes to maintain his permanent resident status. "My father was born before the establishment of the State of Israel. My grandfather was born before the Balfour Declaration. And I am going to lose my right to be in Jerusalem just because I have stayed in Germany for a few years?" he quipped.
Dilemma: Lose your residence or your job
Maraghy does not want to move to Germany permanently. What he does want, according to him, is to bring his daughter and wife to Jerusalem, but on one condition – that his daughter will be granted Israeli travel documents without being forced to apply for a German passport as the Interior Ministry insists.
For Maraghy, a German passport for his daughter would necessitate that he apply for family reunification once he returns to Israel, which could take up to four or five years for Israeli authorities to process. During this time, Maraghy and his family would not be able to leave Israel at all.
Maraghy. 'How can I plan for the future?' (Photo: Assaf Uni)
His case, Maraghy says, exemplifies just one in a long list of limitations the Interior Ministry imposes on Palestinian residents of east Jerusalem that make their lives impossible. "How can I plan for the future when I need to return to Jerusalem so they don't revoke my residence? How can I commit to a job here when I don't know if I can come back the next time I visit? How can I convince my wife to move to Jerusalem with me when she might not be able to leave Israel for four years until she receives permanent resident status?" he asked.
'Help me while I strike'
On the first day of his hunger strike, Maraghy met with the deputy ambassador. Despite the sympathy he showed, the situation has not changed. "They told me that they cannot grant travel documents to my daughter according to the rules of the Interior Ministry," said Maraghy, who decided to launch a public protest against the law.
Maraghy will continue his hunger strike until he breaks down. If the current strike does not work, he plans on taking his wife and daughter to the airport next spring to try and board a plane to Israel, without a German passport. If he is denied, he will remain in the airport.
"Ambassador Yoram Ben-Zeev came and spoke with me during the first week," he said. "He had an offer for me. He said, 'Let me see what I can do in your case. In the meantime, stop your hunger strike. You can always renew it later.' I told him, 'I have a better idea. Try doing what you can; I will continue my hunger strike in the meantime. Maybe this can even help you.'"
The Israeli Embassy reported: "It has been made clear to Mr. Maraghy that due to the fact that his daughter's mother is a German citizen, his daughter is eligible for a German passport. As such, she is not entitled to a laisse passé, which is granted only to those who have no citizenship. A slew of officials have tried speaking with Maraghy to convince him to stop the strike. We are sorry that despite all this, Mr. Maraghy has chosen to continue his hunger strike."
The Interior Ministry reported: "There is no intention to revoke Maraghy's permanent resident status. Mr. Maraghy's daughter is a German native born to a permanent resident father and a German mother. According to the protocols of the Population and Immigration Authority, registering her in the population register will be deliberated in the framework of a request for family reunification. The father must submit a request for his daughter in Israel while basing his life in Israel."
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