Week 30: Family Unification

On July 31, 2003 Israel passed the Nationality and Entry into Israel Law, making the lives of thousands of Palestinian individuals and families even more precarious and complex. Here’s what you need to know about passports and work permits for Palestinians so that together we can rise up.

Topic: Family Unification

Family unification is the process whereby a nation permits the immigration of a citizen’s close relatives and provides those immigrants with a legal status, potentially leading to citizenship, within the state. The goal is to allow citizens the right to marry and to maintain a full family life: a right recognized under international law. Most countries understand this right and allow such immigration.

However, Israel has never recognized the right of Palestinians to family unification. And while the annexation of East Jerusalem has created a political border between Palestinians, it has not severed the familial and social ties between Palestinians. Israel has chosen to ignore this reality and instead has imposed a rigid family unification policy that (a) conflicts with normal Palestinian society and (b) creates a separate system for Palestinians than for that of Jewish citizens, who face a much easier system that actively encourages their family unification process. 

One foundation of this discriminatory policy is the way that Palestinians in East Jerusalem are treated: Palestinians who live and are born in East Jerusalem are not treated as citizens of any country, but are instead treated like immigrants who choose to come and live in the country. Given this limited status, what rights they do have are all the more precarious, and the Minister of the Interior can, with little or no limitation, revoke permanent-resident status and refuse to grant children the same status as their parents. 

Thus, when it comes to family unification, Palestinians are at the whim of the Ministry of the Interior. Due to the slow bureaucratic process and poorly-written requirements, which often led individual clerks making their own, sometimes contradictory demands, HaMoked and B’Tselem found that “on average, it took ten years from the day a request for family unification was submitted to the day that the spouse from the Occupied Territories received a permanent status in Israel—if the Interior Ministry approved the request.” Five of those years, on average, were spent waiting for approval for the unification. During that time, the couple were not allowed to live together in Jerusalem. 

This created one of the first real Catch-22s of this saga: families must both prove that their marriage is sincere and that they center their homes in Jerusalem. A spouse from the West Bank caught living in Jerusalem could be grounds for disapproval of the unification request, while a permanent resident of Jerusalem caught living in the West Bank could lose her permanent-residency for failing to maintain a life in Jerusalem. 

Everything changed again in 2003 with the passage of the Nationality and Entry into Israel Law. Acording to Adalah, “This law prohibits the granting of any residency or citizenship status to Palestinians from the 1967 occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) who are married to Israeli citizens. The Law affects thousands of families comprised of tens of thousands of individuals.” Furthermore, it defines as an adult anyone over the age of 13, meaning that many children cannot receive legal status in Israel, regardless of the legal status of their parents. Adalah is clear in its assessment of the law, stating “the Law constitutes one of the most extreme measures in a series of governmental actions aimed at undermining the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel, as well as Palestinians from the oPt.” This law was subsequently upheld by the Israeli court system, and in 2007 Palestinians in Israel were further denied from marrying citizens of Lebanon, Syria, Iran, or Iraq.

While no family unifications with spouses from the occupied Palestinian territory are allowed, those that were already in the graduated stages were allowed to maintain their status. However, the spouse is not able to continue along to the next stage, nor are they able to receive permanent residency status in Israel. They are stuck in perpetual limbo.

Supporters of the law argue that this cancellation of the family unification process is justified for security purposes. However, as HaMoked and B’Tselem demonstrate, not only are these security arguments not justified, they weren’t part of the original argument for passing the law. But the security concerns are really just a distraction from the real reason for ending family unifications: demographics. HaMoked and B’Tselem conclude that “The contention that cancellation of the procedure for family unification of Israelis and Palestinians was based on security considerations was not raised in a comprehensive and detailed manner until the state had to justify the cancellation to the High Court of Justice. Prior to that, the state cited other reasons to justify the policy, including the danger to the Jewish character of the state resulting from family unification, and the claim that residents of the Occupied Territories exploit the family unification procedure to carry out a ‘creeping right of return.’” 

The Knesset renews the Nationality and Entry into Israel Law on an annual basis, so is fully aware of what it is doing. And the effects have been staggering. In 2016 Haaretz stated “some 9,000 people, including 247 minors, have no legal status in Israel because of the law.” 

Note too that while the HaMoked and B’Tselem report focuses on families in East Jerusalem, Israel’s control of immigration and family unification extends to all of the occupied Palestinian territory, as Israel controls all immigration points. When Al-Haq analyzed the effects of Israel’s family unification laws in its 2019 report “Engineering Community: Family Unification, Entry Restrictions, and other Israeli Policies of Fragmenting Palestinians” it found that “According to the Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee, which receives approximately 300–400 family unification applications each month, there are currently at least 30,000 applications for family unification pending, 25,000 of whom involve foreign nationals, with at least 5,000 who have overstayed their visas to remain with their spouses and families in the oPt. The Committee further states that in 2014, they referred 2,000 family unification applications to the Israeli authorities and have not referred applications since then (except for a few cases) as  the Israeli authorities have stopped processing them.  In total, it is estimated that more than half a million people are impacted by Israel’s policy of refusing to process family unifications, and may be forced to leave the oPt.”

This last number comes from a report from Right to Enter. They analyzed the latest pronouncements (in 2007) from Israel regarding the entry of foreigners to the occupied Palestinian territory and found “Procedures for granting residency to foreign nationals whose center of life is in the oPt remain unaddressed. Israel’s continued refusal to process family reunification applications directly affects as many as 500,000 to 750,000 people who may be forced to leave the oPt to keep their families intact. Together with the many foreign nationals who have established their primary business, investment or professional activities in the oPt, or otherwise aspire to build their lives in the oPt, the new procedures place them, at best, in a state of continuous uncertainty under constant threat of expulsion and exclusion.”

Furthermore, “No provisions are made for the right of dependent children above the age of 16 to reside with their parents in the oPt. Similarly, no provision is made for the eligibility of adult children and siblings, grandparents or in-laws to visit or reside with their families. Such exclusions are devastating to social stability and family welfare in the Palestinian community which relies heavily on the extended family as an essential provider of care across several generations for both the young and the elderly. If a key family member is denied entry, extended family units are often forced to relocate.”

Israel needs to make a number of changes to solve these discriminatory practices and bring its policies in line with international laws and expectations. First, it must revise its policies for Palestinian family unifications in East Jerusalem and Israel to treat such unifications identically to Jewish family unifications. Second, it must grant the Palestinian Authority full authority for determining and enforcing immigration and family unification policies in the West Bank and Gaza. Third, it must also end its discriminatory practice of denying Palestinian refugees from Syria and other countries access to family unifications. 

Of course, for these policies to changed, Israel must acknowledge Palestinian statehood and autonomy and grant its minority citizens equal rights under Israeli law. Given the passage of the Nation-State Law and continued Jewish settlement in the West Bank, it is unlikely these will change anytime soon. It is thus critical that individuals and organizations continue to fight for the rights of Palestinian families and children. 

Through the week, Kumi Now will publish essays and stories from different organizations further exploring how they are doing just that.

Story: Testimony of S. K., 36, married with two children, resident of Ras el-‘Amud

In 1995, I married a resident of Bethlehem. My husband came to live with me in Ras el-’Amud. We lived in a house with one bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom. The house belonged to my father. In June 1996, the Interior Ministry informed me that my request for family unification had been rejected. They said it was due to security reasons, but they did not give any details. I filed an appeal, which also was rejected.

My husband still lives with me in Jerusalem. He has a magnetic card and a permit to enter Jerusalem, which is given to merchants …

I have two children: Nur a-Din … and Baha a-Din … I gave birth to Nur at a hospital in Bethlehem, and he has a Palestinian identity card. The Israeli Interior Ministry refused to register him in my identity card. I told the official at the Interior Ministry that I had to give birth in Bethlehem because I went into labor while I was in the city. The officials demanded that I prove this, and I brought them a medical certificate that confirmed what I said. In early 2002, I went to HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual … HaMoked managed to register Nur at the Health Fund, but I have not yet received word about recording him in my ID card. Nur has speech problems and I take him to the Center for Child Development, in Beit Hanina [East Jerusalem]. Baha a-Din was born in Hadassah Hospital, in Ein Kerem, but the officials at the Interior Ministry still refuse to record him in my identity card. I also sought HaMoked’s assistance on that matter. Not long ago … HaMoked received a positive response, and Baha was recorded in my ID card. 

The fact that my husband cannot live with us legally has a great effect on us. He only has a temporary permit to enter Israel. So, at any time, the authorities may prohibit him from moving about freely inside Israel. Also, the permit does not allow him to spend the night in Jerusalem. As a result, he is living in our house illegally, which causes a great deal of stress. Sometimes, my husband has to run away from the house or hide when the army comes to the area where we live. As I mentioned, my husband has a heart problem. On the one hand, he does not have health insurance in Israel, and on the other hand, he cannot go to the West Bank for treatment because of the checkpoints and the restrictions on movement.

I am worried about the future of my two children, particularly Nur. I cannot register him in school in Jerusalem because he is not recorded in my identity card. I will have to register him in a school in the West Bank, which is harder to get to.

From “Forbidden Families: Family Reunification and Child Registration in East Jerusalem” from B’Tselem and HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual.

Kumi Action

Israel does not hesitate to move people against their will. Help keep the Israeli Minister of the Interior, Prime Minister, and the rest of the cabinet occupied without running afoul of international law by sending them silhouettes cut from paper (also known as paper dolls). Connect your paper dolls into families and send them to the current Minister of the Interior and include a message along the lines of, “At your next cabinet meeting you and your friend Benjamin Netanyahu can have fun cutting apart these families instead of Palestinian families. Stop playing with the Palestinian people.” 

Send your paper dolls and messages to:

Interior Ministry
Attn: Minister of the Interior
Box 6158
2 Kaplan St.

Share a photo of your paper doll families on social media, along with your messages. Include a link to this page of the Kumi Now website along with the hashtags #SaveMySchool, #KumiNow, and #Kumi30.

Literature: “I am invisible, I am nothing” from Gerdien Wolthaus Paauw

My parents fell in love when they both worked as nurses at the Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem. While they were happy to have found each other, it was the birth of many problems for us, as my mother was from Jerusalem and my father from Gaza. As they did not have the same identity cards, they faced complications for themselves and their future family. 

They married and had 4 children together. My eldest brother and I were both born in Jerusalem and, therefore, we each received an Israeli birth certificate with an Israeli number on it, which it is not a full ID, but only a temporary residence permit. I am not an Israeli citizen. I am stateless. My younger siblings did not get certificates because by the time they were born, Israel had changed the law. When a Jerusalemite woman marries a non-Jerusalemite man, the children are put on their father’s ID. This is how Jerusalem can lose her Palestinian children. 

I went to college and successfully completed my law degree. In order to practice law in Israel, I must have a full ID, for which I have been applying for the last 15 years. It has not been granted yet, so I work as a volunteer. I depend on my family for a living. Since I have an Israeli certificate number, it is impossible to get a Palestinian ID. I am neither Israeli, nor Palestinian. I am invisible. I am nothing. Every year I ask Santa Claus for an ID for me and my dear son.

Sabreen (1979) studied Law at Al-Quds University Jerusalem and graduated in 2003. Besides needing an ID to practice law in Israel, an ID is necessary to apply for a passport.

Gerdien Wolthaus Paauw is a freelance photographer. This story is from Paauw’s photo essay collection Jerusalem Heart of a City: Palestinian Visions from Within, available for purchase at http://www.paauw.photography/

Additional Resources

Coming Soon

We have a YouTube playlist with videos about Family Unification.

Image Credits

Coming soon