Law Leaves Thousands of Divided Families in Limbo

High Court of Justice upheld the law banning Palestinians from permanently living in Israel with their Israeli spouses; couples to be dependent on good graces of Interior Ministry clerks to renew residency permits.

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
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Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

This week's key ruling by the High Court of Justice has dashed the hopes of tens of thousands of Arab Israelis seeking residency permits for Palestinian spouses and children.

On Wednesday, the High Court of Justice upheld the law banning Palestinians from permanently living in Israel with their Israeli spouses.

Falastin Hajaj with her children at her home in the Galilee village of Kaukab.Credit: Abdullah Shama

As a result, husbands and wives are dependent on the good graces of Interior Ministry clerks to renew residency permits.

One such couple is Falastin and Samir Ajaji, who have been married for 31 years. She is an Israeli citizen, from the village of Kaukab al-Hija in the Lower Galilee. He is from Sida, a village in the Tul Karm area of the West Bank.

The Ajajis have two sons and two daughters, ages 10, 8, 6 and 2. Until three months ago, Samir received a permit to enter Israel for one week every three months. Recently, the situation improved and he was allowed to visit his family for one week every month.

Falastin said that in addition to seeing their father a week each month, the children, who are registered in her ID card, visit their father in the West Bank on school vacations.

Falastin said they have been submitting forms for family unification for 13 years. "The answer we get is that we should be patient, and I wonder how long I'm supposed to be patient," she said. "I feel sorry for the children."

Falastin said she had considered moving with the children to her husband's village, but this would mean losing all her rights and the children would have practically no status. "I heard about the High Court petition and we hung our hopes on it. Now I don't know what will happen and how it will end," she said.

Dr. Ahmed al-Asbah, from East Jerusalem, holds an Israeli ID card. About four years ago he married a woman from Bethlehem. Eighteen months ago, the couple moved to Ashkelon, where Asbah is doing his residency at Barzilai Medical Center. The couple have two daughters, ages 1 and 2. The girls are registered in the father's ID card, but their mother has to renew her residency permit annually.

"When we applied for family unification and we got this permit, I thought it was an achievement, but now we feel we've been had .... The conditions are even less than that of a foreign worker," Al-Asbah said. "What crime did I commit that my family and I have to suffer?" he added.

A young man from the Western Galilee, who asked to be identified only as P., is in a similar situation. He has been married to a Bethlehemite for three years; the couple have an 18-month-old daughter.

"I've been on the phone for two days with my friends who are married to young women from Ramallah and Bethlehem. We feel lost," P. said after the High Court ruling. "My wife has no standing that can grant her benefits. She can't even drive in Israel."

The Israeli human rights group Hamoked brings up another aspect of the High Court ruling - the children's status. Chldren of permanent residents of East Jerusalem do not automatically receive the status of their parents. If they were born or ever registered as West Bank residents, the law restricts their ability to obtain status in Israel. They remain in Israel only by dint of military permits that must be renewed, and have no social benefits.

Samah Abu-Ramuz, 24, is one such case. She was born in Israel; her mother was a permanent resident of Israel and her father a former resident of Hebron. The center of her life is in Jerusalem, but because she is listed in the Palestinian population rolls, she is in a category called "area resident," which deems her a security risk and denies her residency based on the Citizenship Law.

Such "area residents" above 14 whose Israeli parent submits a residency request for them receive only a military permit that must be renewed annually. Their situation may best be described by Abu-Ramuz: "I live in a constant state of uncertainty."



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