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Palestinians Face Pressure To Assimilate In Jerusalem


Israelis cheered as President Trump last week declared Jerusalem as Israel's capital, but the announcement was a setback for Palestinians who live there and who seek a state of their own. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports now on some of the long-running dilemmas they face, like whether to get Israeli passports or send their kids to Israeli schools.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: President Trump's decision to change U.S. policy and recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital was another blow to Palestinians there who want part of the city for their capital. They've watched Israel tighten its grip on the city since capturing it decades ago, and more of them have given in to a practical reality they long resisted. They're increasingly applying for Israeli passports.

MOHAMMAD ABU DIAB: What every dream of East Jerusalem citizen is to have his own passport. That's a passport that will allow him to go to everywhere - to be proud of this citizenship.

KENYON: Mohammad Abu Diab works for a Palestinian pro-democracy group called the Civic Forum Institute. He says ideally there should be a Palestinian state with the power to issue fully recognized passports. Instead, some people get a more limited travel document, while others carry a Jordanian passport. But Abu Diab says the Israeli passport makes it easier to cross checkpoints and to get visas for international travel. He's had one for many years. State figures show several thousand Palestinians applied for Israeli citizenship in the past decade, although a substantial number of applicants get denied. Abu Diab says having the passport is not something people like to talk about.

ABU DIAB: They are not proud, to be honest with you, if they do have their Israeli passport. No, he - if even you ask him this question, he'll say, no, I still have a Jordanian passport. Again - this is no hope now.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: We don't use (unintelligible). We don't use (unintelligible).


KENYON: Similar pressures face the parents of Palestinian schoolchildren. At the Promise School in the Shuafat neighborhood in East Jerusalem, students learn in English, Arabic and Hebrew and study the Israeli, not the Palestinian curriculum. Founder Amal Ayoub learned Hebrew growing up. In fact, she speaks English with a Hebrew accent, though she's Palestinian. She says some people were angry when she opened the school several years ago.

AMAL AYOUB: At the first, they were very upset because it was a very strange thing to hear, but when they see, after one year, two years, that their sons and girls to go to Hebrew University, so they less upset.

KENYON: Ayoub says she still gets complaints that she's erasing the students' Palestinian identities. Nonsense, she says. Identity comes from the family, the home, and this education will better equip them to remain as Palestinians in their homeland.

AYOUB: I want to tell you that one of the goals here - that Palestinian student, he has the right to take a place in his country, OK? I do this only for keeping them here.

KENYON: The Promise School has grown rapidly, but Ayoub says the support she gets from the Israeli government and student fees doesn't allow her to expand any further.

AYOUB: I want to make labs. I want to make something for their spirit, like dancing, drawing - I don't know. And I have no facilities and no possibilities.

KENYON: Jerusalem's mayor, Nir Barkat, told NPR recently that nearly 6,000 Palestinians have their children in the Israeli education system. That's still a small fraction of the more than 300,000 Palestinians estimated to be living in the city. Those families say they're just trying to do what seems best for their children while they wait for a state of their own.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Jerusalem.

(SOUNDBITE OF BADBADNOTGOOD'S "BOOGIE NO. 69") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.