Friday 27 January 2012

Good news from Jerusalem

Today an email arrived with some good news:

Dear Friends,
The Government of Israel has accepted the Israeli Supreme Court recommendation that my residency be reinstated. I have been granted 2 years' residence on the basis of a Jerusalem Identity Card, and pending good behavior, shall receive permanent residence thereafter.

I am deeply indebted to all of you and extremely grateful for your kind support during this year of particular uncertainty. There is still much work to be done for resolution in line with international law for the 130,000+ Palestinians whose residency has been revoked by the Government of Israel.

With Best Wishes,

Munther Fahmi

The Bookshop
at American Colony Hotel
Tel: 02- 627 9731
Join me on Twitter: @muntherfahmi1

Here's how the Guardian reported it:

The Palestinian owner of an celebrated Jerusalem bookshop patronised by politicians, diplomats, authors and activists has won a rare victory in a six-year battle to be allowed to remain in the city of his birth.

Munther Fahmi, the proprietor of the small but well-stocked bookshop at the legendary American Colony hotel, said he was overjoyed at the news, received on Thursday, that he had been granted a temporary residency permit by the Israeli authorities. He and his lawyer are optimistic it will be made permanent after two years.

Fahmi's campaign to be allowed to remain in Jerusalem is backed by eminent literary figures including the Israeli authors Amos Oz and David Grossman and British and Irish writers including Ian McEwan, Roddy Doyle, John Banville and Simon Sebag Montefiore.

Following the reprieve, his immediate plan was to book a trip to the London Book Fair in April, he told the Guardian, confident he would be admitted back into Israel. "This has been a huge strain. I have been living with uncertainty for 15 years, unable to plan my life. Every time I left the country, I didn't know if I could come back."

The threat stemmed from Fahmi's absence from Jerusalem for almost 20 years, which resulted in him losing his residency permit. Despite having been born and brought up in Jerusalem, he had been forced to rely on a series of tourist visas since returning in 1997.

Thousands of Palestinians have lost the right of residency in the city under similar circumstances. According to the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem, in 2006 there were more than 1,300 revocations, although fewer than 200 in 2010. Human rights groups say the measure is an attempt to keep a Jewish majority in the city, pointing out that the restrictions apply only to Palestinian residents.

Fahmi was born in Jerusalem in 1954. In 1967, Israel captured and later annexed the east of the city, then under Jordanian rule. Fahmi's family, along with most other Palestinians in Jerusalem, declined to take Israeli citizenship and were instead granted permanent residency.

At the age of 18, Fahmi left to study in the US. He married, had a child, acquired American citizenship and built an insurance business. Initially he returned regularly to Jerusalem in order to retain his residency, which can be revoked after an absence of seven years.

In the heady, optimistic period following the signing of the Oslo accords, Fahmi decided to return to live in the city of his birth. He opened the bookshop in 1998, stocking it with Israeli, Palestinian and international authors. The crowded shelves include history, political commentary, fiction, poetry and travel guides. It has become a magnet for visitors – tourists, pilgrims and dignitaries – and locals wanting to read about the Holy Land and the wider region.

But Fahmi had lost his residency permit, instead counting on a three-month tourist visa every time he re-entered the country after a trip abroad. Six years ago he started a legal battle to get his residency rights reinstated.

Two years ago, the Israeli authorities told him they would issue no more tourist visas, and Fahmi would have to leave. His appeal on humanitarian grounds was granted this week.

Fahmi said the international support for his battle "had a huge impact, and rightly so". He paid tribute to Andrew Franklin, founder of Profile Books, who had "relentlessly steered" the campaign. "My first plan when I get to London is to hug and thank him," he said.

The decision, he said, was "good news for people who want to see Israel in a different light". The state should be concerned about its "growing isolationism".

But, he added, there were still "tens of thousands of Palestinians whose residency rights have been revoked. I hope they too get reinstatement."