Since the beginning of Israeli occupation in 1967, all policies towards curbing the process of Palestinian family reunification have greatly threatened normal and stable family life for many. This has been especially true for residents of Jerusalem, whose linkage with the West Bank has been severed, not only geographically but also socially. Families have had to establish two homes, one in Jerusalem and one in the West Bank, which is disruptive to children’s educational process to say the least.
Israel’s policy is far from benign; its control of people’s basic right to choose a spouse and create a family is a malicious attempt to drive people out of the city of Jerusalem, specifically, and even to encourage Arab migration outside the boundaries of Palestinian Authority areas and Israel proper. This “silent transfer” does not get the attention it deserves, because it is just that, a quiet but consistent pressure on Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and Arab citizens of Israel to leave.
1967 – Family unification of a limited number of Palestinian refugees was allowed. 45,000-50,000 persons were approved for family unification between 1967 and 1972 under this policy. The original requests amounted to 140,000 and approval was denied to males between the ages of 16-60.
1973 – Most applications for family unification were denied. The policy was unclear and was done on “strict confidential criteria” . Over 150,000 families put in requests for unification from 1973 – 1982, but only 1,000 requests were approved annually.
1983 – A new policy was set in place to make it impossible to approve requests for family unification. Part of the policy was to deny applicants for family unification a permit to enter to visit his or her family if an application is in the process. The procedure could take a number of years and it was expected that a parent and spouse would want to see their family during that period. As a result, many families either did not apply for family unification in order to secure the right to get a permit or moved to the Occupied Palestinian Territories to be with their spouse, thus risking their own residency rights in Jerusalem. Alternatively, some chose to stay in the city on an expired permit, risking deportation and denial of reentry.
From 1983 to August 1992 only a few hundred requests were approved annually, based largely on administrative and humanitarian needs. This was slightly amended in 1985 to include a provision that stipulates that an applicant must remain away until his or her request is approved. Before 1987, children were automatically registered in their father’s Jerusalem ID, regardless of the status of their mother. After 1987 a new military order forbid registration of a child whose mother is not already a resident.
1993 – An annual quota of 2,000 requests for family unification was implemented starting August of that year; however, the exact number of approved applications is unclear. This new policy restricted requests to those made for a spouse and any child under the age of 16. The previous military order concerning a non-resident mother was annulled, but it was still ignored by the Civil Administration in reviewing cases for family unification.
1995 – After the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, the aforementioned quota system remained in effect, but also included requests coming from throughout the Occupied Territories, including areas under the PA’s control.
1998 & 1999 – The quota system rose to 3,000 per year and according to some figures 3,000 applications in both years were approved.
2000 – The quota system was raised to 4,000 family reunification requests. Despite the rise in the quota, only 3,600 requests were approved that year.
Since 2000, all family reunification requests have been frozen.
2003 - The Knesset enacts the Nationality and Entry into Israel (Temporary Order) Law, 5762-2003 in July. This law effectively annulled all the procedures for family unification. One of the main reasons for this law was on security grounds, especially since “The granting of a permit to stay for the purpose of settling in Israel to a resident of a state or political entity that is in armed conflict with the State of Israel entails a security risk, in that the allegiance and commitment of the said person is liable to be to the state or political entity in conflict with Israel. And because it is possible to pressure a person whose family members continue to live in such a place, to get that person to assist terror organizations, if he doesn’t want any harm to come to his family…”
Process and Procedures:
The Israeli Ministry of Interior very rarely approved applications for family reunification. It imposed strict criteria, often changing rules and policies in the middle of the application procedure. This often meant that the spouse applying for family unification must submit another application based on the new changes. It is a long process with no set timeframe and can drag on for decades. According to Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem it can take ten years on average from the day of submission to the day the family reunification request is finally approved.
Before 1991, many families opted out of the process because there were no movement restrictions between Jerusalem and the West Bank. Early in 1991, however, a new Israeli policy was being enforced, requiring that all West Bank ID holders obtain permits in order to enter Jerusalem and Israel. The introduction of stricter movement measures in 1993 spelled disaster for many families, who had never even contemplated that their lives would be torn apart as such, with one parent on one side of a checkpoint and the other on the opposite side.
During the processing of an application, applicants were not allowed to reside in Jerusalem during that period. On the other hand, if the spouse applying on behalf of their wife was known to be living in the West Bank, his residency rights were jeopardized. This made ordinary family life a challenge.
Families applying for unification were made to jump through hoops, displaying intimate details of their lives for Ministry of Interior officials, only to have even more unreasonable demands made. Proof of residence, producing utilities bills, school registration forms for children, etc. were all requested in addition to many more documents. There was no written policy in the Ministry of Interior and the papers required from each applicant were left to the case file officer to determine.
In addition, the male spouse of a women requesting unification must undergo a thorough security check. If the wife is a West Bank citizen, her Jerusalem ID husband would also need to go through the same background check. After the outbreak of the second Intifada in September 2000, the process became more difficult in light of “security concerns” as per the Israeli official line. Between 100,000 and 140,000 persons from the Occupied Territories became legal residents in Israel between 1993 and 2003 as a result of the process of family unification. Of these, only 23 persons or 0.02 per cent actually carried out attacks against Israel .
The security reason, therefore, did not appear to be a convincing reason for the difficulties that faced applicants of family unification. Whether in Israel proper or Jerusalem, there are some strong arguments that indicate that the actual reason for the halting of the unification process really has to do with keeping the demographic balance in favor of its Jewish citizens.
Subsequent Israeli Ministers of Interior have implemented different policies with regards to the family unification process. In 2001, Eli Yishai, interior minister at the time actively created obstacles for non-Jewish applicants to receive Israeli residency or citizenship and lobbied in the Knesset in order to set legal policies that would support his decisions. On May 12, 2002 the government decided to freeze all unification cases for the Palestinian spouse of an Israeli citizen or permanent resident (Government Decision #1813). The decision also stipulated the rejection of any new applications. This was followed in 2003 with the Law of Nationality and Entry into Israel (Temporary Order 2003) being enacted and it has been repeatedly extended since then. Its main provisions are based on Government Decision #1813.
The State of Israel considered family unification a subversive method used by Palestinians in order to exercise their “right of return” It also upheld the notion that it was exploitative in nature, as residents and citizens were given access to health and other benefits that were not available in the Occupied Territories. It also became concerned with the fact that there were some applications for family unification for spouses from so called “enemy states” with Israel, such as Syria, Lebanon, Iran and Iraq. Therefore, in January 2007, the Nationality and Entry into Israel Law of 2003 was again extended, to include the aforementioned provision as well as a provision for the Ministry of Interior to reject or accept applications for spouses of countries not on the list based on its discretion.
Human Rights and the Discriminatory Policy regarding Family Reunification:
The Israeli policy to deny reunification and in some cases registration for children is in contravention to Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Government Decision #1813 “severely violates the fundamental rights of individuals to equality, liberty, privacy and family life, as it limits the ability of Israeli citizens’, namely Palestinian citizens of Israel, to exercise these rights based on the ethnicity of their spouses.”
Israeli law discriminates against Palestinians and prevents the right to choose a partner or begin a family, as it “explicitly denies rights on the basis of national origin… Existing families will be broken up and other families will not be established.”
According to Article 23 of the ICCPR of 1966, the family is the “natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.” Article 10 of the covenant strictly forbids the interference with the “privacy, family, or home of a person.” Although any given country can impose laws in a state of emergency, Israel has imposed a “sweeping infringement of these rights” and does not meet the condition applied for a state of emergency especially since it discriminates heavily among its citizens.
East Jerusalem is classified as occupied territory under International Law; therefore, Israel is prohibited from discriminating against occupied citizens, including their individual and family rights. Israel’s policy clearly victimizes families and denies these very basic rights especially to Palestinian residents of Jerusalem in an effort to drive out as many indigenous Palestinian residents of the city and maintain a Jewish majority.
References and Background:
• Israel and the Occupied Territories – Torn Apart: Families split by discriminatory policies. Amnesty International, July 2004
• Perpetual Limbo – Israel’s Freeze on Unification of Palestinian Families in the Occupied Territories, B’Tselem, Hamoked, July 2006
• Forbidden Families – Family Unification and Child Registration in East Jerusalem, B’Tselem and Hamoked, January 2004
• Jerusalem Residency – Hamoked Activity Report 2004 (http://www.hamoked.org.il/items/12904_eng.pdf)
• News Update, 22 January 2007, Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.