‘ I Love Papa’ – Israel’s identity crisis and the plight of divided Palestinian families

Going through Israeli Checkpoint 300 a few days ago I noticed a young man carefully balancing a cardboard  box through the turnstiles. ‘Sabah ilkher’ (Good morning) I greeted him, ‘ Do you have cakes in the box?’ He beamed and told me he was going to visit his wife in East Jerusalem. When my team-mate and I reached the Jerusalem side of the checkpoint he was waiting to speak to us again and asked if we could do anything to help him. When we met him again this week, the man, who I will call Mohamed, was too frightened to allow us to use his  name or photograph in this blog.

131112 Bethlehem CP300 Man exiting A.Morgan

Caged approach to Israeli Checkpoint 300 which controls access from Bethlehem to Jerusalem

Mohamed is a 32 year old Palestinian from a village near Hebron who works in Bethlehem. Four years ago he met D., a girl from East Jerusalem, when she was visiting a relative in Bethlehem. They fell in love and were married in 2012 and now they have a 4 month old daughter. Mohamed proudly showed us photos of his little girl wearing a baby grow with the slogan ‘ I love Papa ‘ printed on the front.

Mohamed has West Bank Palestinian ID but his wife has East Jerusalem ID. Most of us do not plan who we fall in love with, but for an East Jerusalemite Palestinian it is very bad planning indeed to fall in love with someone from the West Bank. East Jerusalem is only 6 miles from Bethlehem and  both are part of the area designated by the UN as Palestinian territory. However,since Israel illegally annexed East Jerusalem in 1967 and began building the Segregation Barrier in 2002, tens of thousands of Palestinian families have been torn apart (1).

Mohamed and D. have had a little more luck than most such couples; the Israeli authorities have allowed Mohamed a permit to visit his wife in East Jerusalem for five days every three months, but he can only stay between 7am and 10pm. If he is found in East Jerusalem overnight he will be arrested. His wife visits him occasionally in Bethlehem  “But she is terrified’ says Mohamed, ‘the Israeli authorities made her sign a form agreeing not to come to the West Bank and if she is caught here she will lose her Jerusalem ID’. Such permits and visit restrictions only apply to Palestinians.

In contrast Jewish Israelis can live freely anywhere they choose within Israel, or as settlers in the occupied territories (although this is illegal under international law),  and they can live abroad as long as they want without any risk to their Israeli citizenship. Furthermore, any Jewish person born anywhere in the world can obtain Israeli citizenship. Around 16,500 Jewish people currently  immigrate into Israel each year. During the 1990’s (coinciding with Israel introduction of permitting requirements for West Bank and Gazan Palestinians) nearly a million Jews (mostly from Russia and Ethiopia) arrived and were given citizenship (2).

Despite Israel’s  annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967 and its declaration that this part of the city is in Israel, Palestinians from East Jerusalem have never been granted Israeli citizenship. Their status is limited to ‘permanent residency’ and depends on their ability to prove that their ‘centre of life’ lies within the Jerusalem municipal boundary. Thousands of Palestinians have their residency status revoked every year (1).

If an East Jerusalem Palestinian marries someone from the West Bank and they want to live together in East Jerusalem, they must apply to the Israeli authorities for Family Unification. (Historically there have always been close family and social ties between West Bank and East Jerusalem Palestinians and this continued after Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967). When Israel introduced permit requirements for West Bank and Gazan Palestinians in the early 1990s the Family Unification process  became onerous. Furthermore, since Israel introduced the Nationality and Entry into Israel (temporary order) in 2003, Family Unification has become virtually impossible.

The most frequently cited explanation from Israel for the movement restrictions placed on Palestinians has been that of security. Israel has the right and obligation to protect its own citizens and in 2003, quite soon after the end of the second intifada, increased attempts to monitor and control suicide bombings were implemented in a way that now affects the freedom of movement of the whole Palestinian population.

Israel froze the processing of Palestinian Family Unification applications after the second Intifada. By January 2011, over 120,000 unprocessed applications had accumulated, according to a report by the Israeli human rights organisation, B’Tselem.  Knowing that applications were not being processed, it is likely that many couples chose not to bother with the complex and lengthy application and that the actual number of divided families is much higher. (3).

P1010423

A poster from The Wall Museum – an exhibition of writings by Palestinian women and children displayed on the Bethlehem side of the Segregation Wall.

Mohamed’s wife has been to the Israeli authorities to plead with them to allow Mohamed to come to Jerusalem more freely. They tell her that maybe they will allow it when he is 35 years old, maybe. “Please can you do anything to help me?’  Mohamed asks us, “I just want to be able to see my wife and daughter every week when I have a day off, and be able to spend the night at home with them like a normal family”.

A further worry for Mohamed and D. is their daughter’s status. East Jerusalem Permanent Residency status is not automatically passed on to a holder’s children by right and this creates difficulties in registering children, especially where one parent has West Bank or Gazan ID. A UNOCHA report estimated that there maybe as many as 10,000 unregistered children in East Jerusalem (1).

In April 2013 Israel renewed the Nationality and Entry into Israel (temporary order) again.

My team is currently supporting Mohamed by identifying sources of legal assistance for his case. As EAs our task is also to shed light on the daily reality for civilian and the effects of the occupation on their lives,  and to get these stories through to decision makers.

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