Since the establishment of the AIC-Project for Palestinian Residency & Family Reunification in 1992, we have perceived the question of the future of the millions of Palestinian refugees as the core of this human rights project. Due to the absence of political moves on this issue, the possibilities for fruitful interventions by a small project and limited staff like ours were at that time practically non-existent. Problems of family reunification, quantitatively and qualitatively insignificant compared with the refugee issue, were the only field in which local human rights organizations could enter into a bargaining process with the Israeli authorities and sometimes achieve positive results.
With the approach of summer - the period in which Israel sets a quota for Palestinian abroad to visit their homeland - West Bank and East Jerusalem residents are applying to the Civil Administration for visit permits. (Gaza and Jericho residents submit applications at the Palestinian office of the Palestinian-Israeli Liaison Committee for Civil Affairs, after which Israel has the final say over the application).
Not just any family member can be granted a visit permit for his or her relative abroad. The applicants must be classified by Israel as immediate family members - spouses, parents, siblings or children. Thus only if the “visitors” have close family members who are residents of the West Bank or East Jerusalem will they be allowed through the border. One would think, therefore, that the more family a person has “inside” the stronger that person’s case is for a “visit”. Not for the Civil Administration, though. The following case is representative of the bureaucratic stubbornness with which the Civil Administration deals with Palestinians.
Based on a promise made in summer 1993, when Israel presented its policy paper concerning future procedures of family reunification, the Israeli authority finally issued a new regulation concerning child registration in the occupied West Bank, Military order #1421 (January 17, 1995) provides that a child of Palestinian parents can be registered at the Population Registry if:
- he/she is below the age of 18;
- both parents have resident status;
- one of the parents has resident status and the responsible officer is convinced that this parent has a permanent domicile in the area;
According to PA sources in Gaza, 50,000 Palestinians have entered the autonomous areas on Israeli-issued visit permits between May 17 and April 1995 in order to visit their relatives in Gaza and Jericho. Most of them (35,000) entered the Gaza Strip during summer 1994. After three months, their visit permit expired. The majority of them wished to stay longer and the Palestinian Authority - empowered to do so by the DOP - renewed their permits for an additional four months. Since December 1994, the PA issued visit permits have started to expire, and according to the DOP, a third renewal requires the approval of the Israeli side.
announced that approximately 15,000 Palestinian families whose head of household has East Jerusalem resident status are currently living in the occupied territories outside the city boundaries. Approximately 1,500 of them reside in the PA administered Gaza Strip or Jericho. The NII stated that it will make special efforts to identify these families and stop child allowance payments, although accurate identification is difficult, because Palestinian families who move outside the city tend to keep their former Jerusalem address. This NII statement came in response to protest against the continuation of NII payments raised in the Knesset by a parliamentarian of the National Religious Party. The MK had been informed of ongoing NII payments to Palestinian Jerusalemites living outside the city by a NII clerk who himself had refused social security payments to a Palestinian Jerusalemite whom he discovered as belonging to this group. (Kol Israel Radio, 22/2/95)
Makram M. is a Jerusalem youth in his early twenties. Like other youths who grew up during the Intifada, he participated in demonstrations and stone throwing in the streets of Jerusalem, and was detained several times for interrogation by the Israeli intelligence. His education, has career aspirations, and personal future seemed secondary in those times. Today, Makram has finished school and works in a Jerusalem hotel. He has lost hopes for a political solution. He says that the Oslo Agreement will never lead to an independent Palestinian state, and Jerusalem will certainly remain under Israeli occupation. Now Makram wants to make up for his lost past, and he wishes to do what young people of his age enjoy - he wants to travel abroad to see the world.
In March 1995, local human rights organizations were informed that West Bank residents married to a Jerusalemite and holding a three-month entry permit to Jerusalem will be able to renew this permit only once for an additional three months. For a second renewal, the Civil Administration will request a written confirmation by the Jerusalem Interior Ministry declaring that the couple’s application for family reunification is still pending. Considering the fact that the Interior Ministry requires an average of one year to process family reunification applications and the permanent overcrowding at the Ministry, this new procedure represents a new form of bureaucratic harassment to Palestinian couples attempting to legalize their presence in Jerusalem.
In order to keep step with the government’s drive to separate “sovereign” Israel from the West Bank, the Interior Ministry has in recent weeks intensified its efforts to bureaucratically sever Palestinian Jerusalemites living outside the city. The Interior Ministry has long been a central tool in Israel’s policy of minimizing the Palestinian population of Jerusalem. Now, that Prime Minister Rabin is talking “separation” (apartheid in Afrikaans), the Interior Ministry must set its books straight and shift out those Palestinians who will maintain their rights to reside in their capital city from the rest.
Jerusalem Action Committee of Chicago formed: With a goal of protecting Palestinian residency rights and protesting the growth of Israeli settlements - particularly in the Jerusalem area - a group of activists recently formed the Jerusalem Action Committee of Chicago (JACC). Many of the activists have long been engaged in the Palestinian struggle and, over the last year, have waged an effective campaign to protest oppressive Israeli policies of denied family reunification for East Jerusalem residents. JACC is encouraging Americans to write letters of protest to the Israeli government, to give concrete support to Palestinian families who are in immediate danger because of Israeli policies and, with the aid of background materials, to educate themselves and others on the issues.
Easter Irony: On Friday, April 14, the Israeli Arab language radio announced that the West Bank Civil Administration would issue entry permits to Christian Palestinians wishing to attend Easter services in Jerusalem. All the Israeli Civil Administrations offices, however, closed their doors on that same day for the Jewish Passover holidays.