Israeli’s new UK passport lists birthplace as ‘Occupied Palestinian Territories’

Britain’s Home Office apologizes for ‘error’; Jerusalem-born Ayelet Balaban says discovery particularly shocking as it comes after her business was hit by Hamas rockets

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

The British passport that Ayelet Balaban received in June 2021, with her place of birth listed as Occupied Palestinian Territories instead of Jerusalem (courtesy)
The British passport that Ayelet Balaban received in June 2021, with her place of birth listed as Occupied Palestinian Territories instead of Jerusalem (courtesy)

A Jerusalem-born Israeli woman with British citizenship said Wednesday she was shocked to discover that her new UK passport lists her birthplace as the “Occupied Palestinian Territories.”

The British Home Office later apologized, describing the listing as an “error” and saying it was urgently investigating the matter.

Ayelet Balaban, whose father is British, was born at Hadassah Mount Scopus Hospital in Jerusalem.

The medical center sits within the territory that formed an Israeli exclave between the 1948 War of Independence and the 1967 Six Day War, at which time Israeli forces captured the surrounding area from Jordan. The Mount Scopus site, which the hospital shares with Hebrew University, was never part of Jordanian-controlled East Jerusalem.

Balaban applied for her new passport online and says she sent the old one by mail to the UK on May 23, two days after the end of the 11-day conflict between Hamas and Israel known as Operation Guardian of the Walls.

She said she received her new documentation back on Monday night.

“I was shocked to see that my place of birth was changed from Jerusalem to Occupied Palestinian Territories,” she told The Times of Israel.

Ayelet Balaban (courtesy)

Balaban initially thought that she had made a mistake in filling out the online form, or perhaps that the fact that she now lives in the relatively new Ganei Tal village, founded by settlers who left the Katif bloc in Gaza during Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from the Strip, had accounted for the change.

“I never lived there [before 2005], but I thought that maybe they got mixed up. But the place where I live doesn’t even appear on my passport,” Balaban said.

The location on the passport is the result of an error, and is not an indication of any new British government policy, The Times of Israel has learned.

A British Home Office spokesperson said: “We apologize for this error and are urgently investigating how this has occurred. We will contact Ms Balaban about the issuing of a new passport showing the correct place of birth.”

Balaban and her husband Avi run a plant and flower nursery in Ashkelon. The nursery, which was hit by Hamas fire, was closed during the Gaza conflict in May.

“Living in the south, and working near the Gaza border, we had just [been through] the [military] operation and I was just completely shocked,” Balaban said. “After everything we’ve been through, how do you do this to my personal passport?”

“It really was a hard feeling, because we closed for 11 days,” she said. “We had rockets that fell in our greenhouses, so we couldn’t even go there.”

“We’ve just been trying to lick our wounds and it has been really shocking for me,” she said.

Ayelet Balaban’s previous passport, which lists her birthplace as ‘Jerusalem’ (courtesy)

Balaban said that her brother, who renewed his British passport two years ago, was still listed as being born in “Jerusalem,” which had led her to believe that this could be a new policy.

The listed place of birth for those born in Jerusalem was a contentious issue also for dual-US citizens, some of whom waged a long legal battle in order to have “Jerusalem, Israel” listed on their US passports instead of just Jerusalem.

An illustrative picture of Hadassah Hospital Mount Scopus in Jerusalem on March 15, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In 2015, the US Supreme Court struck down a disputed 2002 law that would have allowed Americans born in Jerusalem to list their birthplace as Israel on their US passports. The court ruled 6-3 that Congress overstepped its bounds when it approved the law, which would have forced the State Department to alter its longstanding policy of not listing Israel as the birthplace for Jerusalem-born Americans.

But last year, then-US secretary of state Mike Pompeo announced a change in the longstanding State Department policy, allowing Jerusalem-born US citizens to decide if they want “Jerusalem, Israel” on their passports.

Amy Spiro and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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