Knesset Panel Mulls Long Waits at East Jerusalem Population Registry

It will take at least six months before pressure on the population registry office in East Jerusalem subsides, straining Palestinian residents beginning the citizenship process

The East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, 2016.
Olivier Fitoussi

It will take at least six months before pressure on the population registry office in East Jerusalem subsides, an official said Tuesday at a meeting of the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee. The meeting was called by its chairman, MK Yoav Kish (Likud), following a report in Haaretz and a request by former Defense Minister Moshe Arens.

Among the harsh testimony given at the meeting, attorney Hayah Horowitz said she requested an appointment for a client who is beginning the citizenship process, and was given a date in January 2020. Attorney Ahmed Darawshe, a parliamentary consultant to MK Ahmad Tibi (Joint List) showed the committee how the Interior Ministry app for making an appointment works. In West Jerusalem an appointment could be made for the following week, while in East Jerusalem the soonest appointment was six months away.

Scenes outside the Population Authority office in East Jerusalem

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Haaretz reported on a number of East Jerusalem residents who had to wait many hours to enter the building, were humiliated by security guards, and waited months for their appointment. Tibi said: “Can you imagine a crisis, a humiliating situation like this in Ra'anana or anywhere else not being resolved and no minister intervening?” MK Benny Begin (Likud) who was chairing the meeting, said: “The situation has gotten worse recently. The problem has been known for many years and to a few interior ministers; action may have been taken but the basic distress has not been resolved.”

Attorney Aber Jubran-Dakawar of Hamoked Center for the Defense of the Individual, who has petitioned the High Court of Justice four times over conditions in the population registry, told the committee that the premises also handles unemployment applications and suggested that the two offices be split. She also mentioned the time it takes for each person’s bag to undergo a security check. “We asked for an x-ray machine to be installed. I don’t need a security guard rifling through my bag. There are ways to make things easier if there’s a will...People are very angry.”

Naif Hino, senior deputy director of the Population and Immigration Authority said the authority is aware of the issue and is trying to deal with it. He said five more service windows have been added in East Jerusalem over the past few months and efforts were underway to open another bureau. Toilets and sunshades were being built outside the bureau to make the wait easier, he said. The authority is negotiating with the Jerusalem municipality to rent an additional building but it will take at least six months before a new bureau will open, Naif said.

One of the problems raised at the meeting is that Palestinians in Jerusalem cannot apply for services to any other bureau than the one in East Jerusalem, even if they are Israeli citizens. Until a new premises opens, MK Begin asked why East Jerusalem residents could not be served in other bureaus as well.