Israel Seeks to Block All East Jerusalem Family Reunification Hearings Over 'Workload'

East Jerusalem Palestinian families are stuck in fear and without medical care or schools for their children while they wait for the Interior Ministry to hear their cases

A line at the Population Authority office in E. Jerusalem, 2018.
Emil Salman

For the past year and a half, a Palestinian grandfather living in East Jerusalem has been trying to obtain resident status for his three grandchildren, who were all born in East Jerusalem and suffer from mental disabilities. The three live with the grandfather, who is their guardian, but don’t have resident status in Israel because their father is dead and their mother lives in the West Bank.

After a year and a half - including 11 reminders sent to the Israeli Interior Ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority on te grandfather's behalf, two weeks ago, the Authority answered, asking a ministry appeals tribunal to reject the family's appeal. The rejection is not on the merits, but because of the intolerable workload at the ministry’s East Jerusalem office. The family’s case, which is being handled by the HaMoked Center for the Defense of the Individual, is not an isolated one.

Many families have filed similar appeals to force decisions on requests that have bogged down due to the office’s heavy caseload. The Population Authority has taken the same stance in dozens of other similar cases for family unification and resident status for Palestinian children in East Jerusalem.

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Lacking Israeli identity cards

Each year about 600 family unification requests are made to the ministry’s population registry office in East Jerusalem. In most cases, one of the spouses reside in the West Bank or in Jordan and are seeking permission to live with their spouse in Israel or are requesting permanent resident status for children.

After the 1967 Six-Day War, in which Israel captured East Jerusalem and effectively annexed it, the Israeli government gave Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem permanent resident status and social welfare benefits, including medical care in Israel.

But requests to the Interior Ministry for approval for family reunification or permanent resident status can take months or even years to be processed and include verification that the families do in fact live in Jerusalem and that the marriages involved are not fictitious or marriages of convenience. The process also includes a security investigation by the police and the Shin Bet security service.

The protracted delays have caused difficulties for hundreds of families. Hundreds of children living in East Jerusalem don’t have medical coverage because they don’t have Israeli identity cards. Some parents encounter difficulties enrolling them for school, and older children are afraid of being alone on the street for fear of being picked up by police for lack of documentation. Some families are also forced to live apart until they get their answer.

Filing an appeal to expedite the process

Because of the delays, many Palestinians try to obtain relief from the appellate tribunal through lawyers or human rights organizations, to force the Population Authority to respond. Most appeals are filed between six months to a year after the initial request was made.

In its response to the appeal filed by the Palestinian grandfather, the Population Authority said its East Jerusalem office serves the 300,000 people living in the east of the city and provides a range of services. The authority said it has hired the services of an outside consultant firm to help it deal with the workload and has submitted a proposed time line that would include handling of all requests by the end of this year that were filed by the end of 2017.

For its part, HaMoked said the authority’s policies would add to the suffering of applicants, lengthen the wait times and deprive residents of East Jerusalem access to the courts. The group stated that authority’s operations haven’t been properly run for years and that the chaos at the East Jerusalem office is widely known.

“Now it has gone one step further. After inflicting damage to the basic level of service that anybody contacting the administrative authority is entitled to receive, it has actually announced that the intolerable situation will last for years more,” Hamoked wrote.

The population authority said in response: “The tribunal has been presented with a plan to deal in principle with the matter that has been raised by the appeals, and the court is therefore being asked to provide us with the possibility of dealing with the cases in the context of the plan.”