Israeli Family Unification Law Leaves 247 Palestinian Kids Without Legal Status

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Palestinians school children participating in a demonstration in support of the Palestinian bid for statehood recognition in the UN in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Sept. 22, 2011. Credit: AP

Some 9,900 people, including 247 minors, have no legal status in Israel because of the emergency regulation that puts limits on granting Israeli citizenship or residency to the Palestinian families of Israeli citizens.

The Citizenship and Entry Law, first passed in 2003, has been extended annually, most recently last week. Under the legislation, everyone 14 and older is considered an adult and cannot receive legal status in Israel.

Ahmed Ashur, 25, was born in Jerusalem to a Jerusalemite woman whose husband is a resident of the West Bank. He went to school in Jerusalem and has lived in the city his entire life except for two years, when the family lived in a Palestinian suburb of the city.

His family lives in Jerusalem and his mother and four siblings have Israeli residency permits. He has worked for years as a sous chef in a Tel Aviv restaurant, speaks excellent Hebrew and all his friends are Israeli Jews.

But because he and his sister were over 14 when his parents applied for family reunification when they returned to live in Jerusalem, they have no legal status in Israel. The only ID document he has is an entrance permit from Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank, the same document given to day laborers from the territory.

Ashur says he can’t get a driver’s license, can’t go to a doctor and has to travel to and from Tel Aviv every day because he can’t rent an apartment.

“They once caught me when my permit had expired and they threw me behind the checkpoint, even though I have nothing in the territories. I want to get married and have a family, but I can’t because every girl tells me that if I have no home, no car and no ID card, that’s no life,” Ashur said.

“I have Jewish friends who emigrated from Mexico. They weren’t born here and didn’t live here, but when they came they got an ID card. I was born here and lived here and my family is here; why don’t I deserve it?”

Attorney Adi Lustigman, who represents families whose children have no legal status, says the regulation puts many families in a difficult position.

“It means that in the same family if there’s a child who doesn’t feel well they take him to the health clinic, but if his sibling doesn’t feel well they can’t take him because they fear having to pay thousands of shekels if he needs to be hospitalized,” she said.

A joint meeting of the Knesset Interior Committee and the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee debated extending the regulation. At the meeting, security officials said that over the past 15 years, 17 people who received residency under family reunification rules by marrying Israelis had been involved in terror attacks, while 87 other terrorists were family members of people who had received such status. No figures were provided on the involvement of teenagers over 14.

“It’s a totally populist law; there are no numbers on the link between terror and this law,” Lustigman said.

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