At 18, Anwar Missed the Chance to Prove He Exists

Hundreds of people have no legal standing - in Israel or any other country.

Shahar Ilan
Shahar Ilan
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Shahar Ilan
Shahar Ilan

Anwar Ghazem's world is practically confined to his father's apartment near Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, the yard and his father's vendor stall beneath the apartment. Ghazem, 23, is neither disabled nor sick, and has not been sentenced officially to house arrest; but in reality, he is a prisoner in his home. Ghazem is one of a group of several hundred people in Israel who are not documented anywhere - not in Israel, not in the Palestinian Authority, not in any country. He has no identification card, no identification number. Bureaucratically speaking, he does not exist.

Were Ghazem to budge a few meters from home, which is on the seam between West and East Jerusalem, he could expect a document check by the Border Police. Since he has no papers, he would be arrested and detained for several hours, until his father would bail him out. Police computer records at least have a fictitious ID number for him, with a notation that he has no papers. In the best-case scenario, his arrest would be merely another in a long series of humiliations. In the worst case, he would also be beaten.

Without papers, Ghazem cannot work. When he was younger, he tried operating a vegetable stall at Damascus Gate, but he was twice arrested and his stall confiscated, so he gave up. He can't get married either, or even engaged. "I saw a girl in the market, a pretty girl, nice. I went with my father and mother. Her father said to me, 'When you get an ID card, be my guest. You don't have an ID card? Maybe the government will kick you out of the country.' All my friends are marrying," Ghazem says. "A 23-year-old Arab man already has three or four kids."

But the truth is that Ghazem cannot be deported. He has nowhere to go. He was born in Israel, the child of an Israeli resident, and he lives in Israel. Yet he has no way of proving he is who he says he is.

'Garlic certificate'

HaMoked Center for the Defense of the Individual in Jerusalem is currently handling at least five cases of undocumented East Jerusalemites; it has handled 15 cases over the years. HaMoked estimates there are dozens such cases involving children of East Jerusalem residents, many of them already adults. The problem is especially acute for adults since mobility in East Jerusalem without papers is nearly impossible.

These cases are usually the product of marriage between residents of Israel and the PA, when the Israeli parent is dysfunctional or afraid to register the children. The matter is further complicated by the Interior Ministry's bureau in East Jerusalem, which creates obstacles to registration.

"Most cases involve large families of little means. Sometimes the father is a junkie, who can't stand in line at the Interior Ministry," says attorney Adi Lustigman, who represents several HaMoked cases and is representing Ghazem privately.

Lustigman cites other circumstances that cause problems: home births, and cases in which East Jerusalem hospitals refuse to provide a birth statement before hospitalization costs are paid, and the Interior Ministry refuses to issue a birth certificate without the statement.

A report by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel explained that children of East Jerusalem residents are not registered for a variety of reasons: "Frequent changes in Interior Ministry policy, the physical conditions at the Population Administration in East Jerusalem [which have since improved - S.I.], excessive forms and tiring bureaucratic procedures, the high cost of the registration process, and the Interior Ministry's interpretation of the law and regulations, designed to prevent the children's registration."

HaMoked provides people whose cases they take on with a letter they call a "garlic certificate." This document, stamped by a lawyer, explains the legal situation and has a photo of the undocumented individual. The letter has this name because it is meant to ward off evil: "If you're lucky, the cop is considerate. If not, they take you to the Russian Compound," Lustigman said, referring to the detention center in downtown Jerusalem.

Status for minors only

Anwar's father, Adnan Ghazem, 57, who is an Israeli resident, has 23 children. He registered the 12 children from his first wife, but dallied when it came to the 11 children from his second wife, who is not an Israeli resident. He says he ran into a bureaucratic wall. More likely he was afraid of something, perhaps paying taxes or National Insurance fees.

At any rate, the first documented request was filed in 2002, when Anwar was 19. The ministry agreed to register eight of his younger siblings and grant them residency, but the state is not legally obligated to confer such status on children over 18.

Lustigman says that international treaties to which Israel is a signatory require it to legalize the status of undocumented individuals.



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