For Palestinians in East Jerusalem, Israeli Bureaucracy Goes From Bad to Intolerable

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East Jerusalem's Interior Ministry building in 2016
East Jerusalem's Interior Ministry building in 2016Credit: Emil Salman

Unfortunately for Dr. Samir Masri, a resident of East Jerusalem, his son Omar was born prematurely during a family trip to the United States. Because his wife is a native of the West Bank who is in the midst of the “family unification” procedure, their baby had no legal status in Israel when they returned.

Thus began their Kafkaesque journey through the bureaucracy of the Interior Ministry office in East Jerusalem, which has a reputation for its poor treatment of Palestinian residents of the city.

According to the regulations, he had to bring his infant son to the office in order to begin the registration process.

“He was born at a very low weight, yet despite that every time you have to bring him and wait five to six hours in the sun before they even start to pay attention to you,” Masri says. He said he took the baby to the offices no less than 20 times, but couldn’t make any progress in registering him, even though he himself was born in Jerusalem, has lived here all his life and his two older children are registered.

After all those visits, he was told to fill out a form with his details and they’d get back to him to set an appointment for launching the process.

Six weeks later he was given an appointment for July 2017, nearly a year after the baby was born, 10 months after he first went to the Interior Ministry and half a year after he submitted the form. He is supposed to teach a course at a German university that starts in July. And this appointment is merely to submit the documents to start the registration process; the process itself is expected to take another year. He turned to attorney Adi Lustigman, who wrote on his behalf to the Interior Ministry asking for an earlier appointment, but the ministry replied that there was no earlier appointment.

Lawyers and East Jerusalem residents say that the service at the Interior Ministry bureau in East Jerusalem, which was never known for its efficiency, had gotten intolerable. In two cases that Lustigman is handling, clients were given appointments a year hence just to open a file to apply for citizenship (East Jerusalem citizens have the status of permanent residents; to become citizens they must submit a special request.) Again, these are just appointments to open a file; the actual naturalization process could take an additional three years.

“In a normal place, a person comes, waits in line for an hour, maybe two if it’s really bad,” says Lustigman. “Here you stand in line for hours just to make an appointment, and then they give you an appointment for a year later. Essentially you’re waiting in line to get an appointment to get an appointment in another three years.”

She notes that these procedures only apply to Palestinians who live in Jerusalem; in cases of foreigners — say, a Japanese woman who marries an Israeli man — the Interior Ministry is required to launch a status registration procedure within 45 days.

The Interior Ministry said in response, “Over the past two or three years there has been a significant rise in the number of requests for [residency] status and the number of requests altogether. This rise is manifesting itself in an ever-increasing workload. The management of the [population] authority, led by Interior Minister Arye Dery, is making efforts to reduce waiting times for services in a number of ways, including increasing manpower, broadening the services available remotely and opening more branches of the authority. We are confident these steps will soon be felt.”

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