The owner of a famed bookshop in East Jerusalem has won the right to remain in the city after a six-year-long battle to regain residency.
Munther Fahmy, the Palestinian owner of QBD The Bookshop in the American Colony Hotel, has been granted a temporary residency permit after years of running his business illegally under a tourist visa.
Born and raised in Jerusalem, Fahmy’s family took up the offer of permanent residency, as opposed to Israeli citizenship, after Israel annexed the previously Jordanian-administered/occupied section of Jerusalem in the 1967 war. At 21, Fahmy left Jerusalem, spending 20 years in the United States. He returned in the wake of the Oslo Peace Accords, but ever since had remained, in his hometown, on a tourist visa, renewing it every three months on his American passport.
The bookshop is held in high regard as “the only decent English-language bookshop in the country”, according to one former Israeli foreign minister quoted by The Economist on 24 March 2011. As one of the only places in Jerusalem or the Occupied Territories where English-language books on the conflict can be found, Munther Fahmy’s book readings, held in the old reception rooms of the American Colony, provide a rare arena for open discussion amongst diplomats, aid workers, journalists and members of the Israeli and Palestinian political establishments.
Like many countries, Israel revokes residency rights after a prolonged period of absence. However, Fahmy told The Economist it was not until Israeli authorities were giving him “a hard time” that he discovered he maintained the right to residency until 2002. Almost three years ago Israel said it would no longer renew his tourist visas, forcing him to take action.
The international campaign to support Fahmy in his fight to gain a residency visa attracted widespread attention, garnered support from international and local authors and literary figures. Fahmy and his lawyer are confident that his temporary permit will be made permanent after two years. Now he has secured his right to remain, Fahmy plans to attend the London Book Fair in April, certain, finally, that he won’t be turned away on his return home.