Palestinian Fathers Can Now Be With Their Israeli Wives During Childbirth

Jerusalem court sets precedent with decision, but for some it comes too late.

Netta Ahituv
Netta Ahituv
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Sha'ar Efraim checkpoint.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Netta Ahituv
Netta Ahituv

Ten years ago, A. and W. met at a wedding of friends and fell in love. Five years later, they married. Their love transcended the ordeals they had to endure as a consequence of her being an Israeli and he a Palestinian. The couple, in their early 30s, now live separately. He resides in the West Bank; she is in the center of Israel, where she is raising their two children – boys, 5 years old and 4 months, respectively – by herself.

Ahead of the scheduled birth of the second child, A. submitted a request – and another request, and then another one – to the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories [COGAT – the authority responsible for implementing Israeli civil policy in the West Bank and vis-à-vis Gaza]. He was requesting a permit to enter Israel, in order to be with his wife during the birth, and to look after their elder son while she was in the hospital. In the meantime, the NGO Physicians for Human Rights submitted a professional opinion, prepared by a social worker who is in touch with W., to the Health Ministry’s humanitarian committee.

The document noted that W. had lost her mother and that her father had not been in contact with the family since he remarried. She thus lacked family support circles, and she was afraid to give birth alone. She was also worried about who would look after her elder son while she was hospitalized. The request was not approved.

W. gave birth to the baby alone; A. missed his son’s birth. He was allowed to visit his family for the first time when his second son was 6 weeks old, and then only for a week.

Soon, however, the Civil Administration will no longer be able to ignore Palestinian fathers who wish to be present at the birth of their Israeli children. Last week, the court for administrative affairs, in Jerusalem, gave the state 60 days to arrange procedures that will obviate future cases in which a father is forced to be absent from his child’s birth.

The petition to the court was submitted by the legal adviser to Physicians for Human Rights, attorney Tamir Blank. It asked the court to deviate – in cases related to who can present during childbirth – from the strict letter of the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law (more precisely, a 2003 amendment to the law), which stipulates that Israeli citizenship or residency shall not be granted to the Palestinian partner in the approximately 22,000 Israeli-Palestinian families living on both sides of the Green Line. PHR submitted an opinion to the court emphasizing the importance of the male partner’s presence at childbirth and during the recovery period afterward.

I asked A. this week whether he was happy with the decision. “I can’t see my children, so it doesn’t make me happy,” he replied. “I also have to say, my story is also the story of many others. It’s a story of people who did nothing wrong and want to live in this country and raise their children, but are not allowed to because of one marginal detail: They were born on the wrong side of the state.”

Mor Efrat, the projects coordinator of PHR’s occupied Palestinian territory department, handled A.’s case. She believes the story underlines “the depth of Israeli rule in all layers of the life of the Palestinians in the territories, and shows the absurdity of the situation: having to fight for the obvious – to be at your partner’s side when she gives birth.”

COGAT stated in response to request for comment: “It took a long time to deal with the request, due to the fact that the resident is denied entry to Israel for security reasons. Following a specific examination of his case, it was decided to authorize the resident’s visit, and a one-week permit was issued. The existing regulations allowed for a response to requests of this type even before the court made its decision.

“At the same time, in light of the court’s recommendation to clarify the procedures in this matter, it was agreed to amend the procedure, to make explicitly clear that it applies to the accompaniment of women who are giving birth. The status of a court ruling was conferred on this agreement.”

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