East Jerusalem Woman Is Stateless in Her Own City

Twenty-eight-year-old Basama Bourkan doesn't dare move beyond a radius of five kilometers inside Jerusalem, between her home in Abu Tor, the private school in the Old City where she works as a social worker and the private medical center where she undergoes physiotherapy following an accident. Even though her parents were born in Jerusalem and her parents and sisters, with whom she lives, are residents of Jerusalem, the Ministry of the Interior has not found her eligible for an Israeli ID card.

Bourkan also fell victim to an Israeli con-woman who promised to get her an ID card and then ran off with thousands of shekels from her and other Jerusalemites in a similar situation.

Bourkan has consulted the Jerusalem Center for Economic and Social Rights, which assists people who face bureaucratic problems with the ministry or the National Insurance Institute. Ziad Hamouri, the center's director, says he believes there are several dozen Jerusalemites who have a problem similar to that of Bourkan. "The number may not be great but their difficulties are, and they go on for years," he says. "It shows that, despite all the promises, the ministry's deliberate policy of foot-dragging is continuing."

The hopes these people had when Shinui's Avraham Poraz took over the ministry were soon dissipated. Now they are pinning their hopes on the new Labor minister, Ophir Pines-Paz.

Without an ID card and permanent residency, Bourkan's movements and plans are limited. She cannot continue her studies. The Hebrew University won't accept a person without an ID. She cannot get to a university in the Palestinian Authority without passing through an Israel Defense Forces roadblock, where she also needs an ID card. She cannot look for a better job in an official institution. She has no medical insurance. She takes a chance if she uses public transportation; she has already been asked to leave when drivers see she has no ID card.

She has a Jordanian travel permit, but she is not a Jordanian citizen and even if she wanted, could not live in Jordan.

Bourkan was injured in an accident in September 2004. Her skirt was caught in the door of a taxi and the driver, who did not notice, drove off, dragging her along. She was almost unconscious when he stopped but used her last strength to prevent passersby from calling the police. She was afraid they would deport her to Jordan. Since she had no ID, she could not report the driver.

Bourkan was born in Kuwait where her father was working. In 1991, following the first Gulf war, when Kuwait expelled thousands of Palestinians who had been working there for years, her family moved to Jordan. They returned to Jerusalem in 1995 when Basama was already 18. Only her mother had an Israeli ID then, as the father was not in Israel when the 1967 census was taken. In 2000, after a long process, her father and sisters (who were also born abroad) received ID cards on the basis of family reunification. The sisters, who were married to Jerusalemites, were entitled to ID cards and temporary residence, while one sister who was a minor received an ID because of her relationship with her mother.

All Basama's requests since 1995 have been turned down, however, because she is an adult. The law states that she could only receive an ID if she was a minor born to someone who has Israeli residency or citizenship, or if she marries someone who has, the ministry spokesman told Haaretz. A ministry official told her mother it was a pity to waste money on repeated requests and that it would be better for Basama simply to marry a Jerusalemite.

Without direct connection to Bourkan, it appears that East Jerusalem families do not want their sons to marry a woman without Israeli residency, because of the bureaucratic difficulties involved. A ministry spokesman said, "An adult has the right to present a request for permanent residence and every case is judged on its merits." He said that family ties were taken into consideration.

But it appears that Bourkan's circumstances have not really been considered. Attorney Mohammed Kadah of the center applied to the minister in May 2004 on her behalf, to no avail. In January 2005, he wrote again. Bourkan still has not received a reply and she is still afraid to walk around the streets of her hometown, Jerusalem.