Israel Tells Court It Refuses to Give Palestinian LGBTQ Asylum Seekers Work Permits

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The Qalandiyah checkpoint in February.
The Qalandiyah checkpoint in February, unrelated to collaboration or LGBTQ issues. Credit: Emil Salman

Israel has told the High Court it is willing to grant work permits and medical care to Palestinians who fled the territories because they were suspected of collaborating with Israel, but not to Palestinians who escaped due to anti-LGBTQ persecution or domestic violence.

The state prosecution notified the High Court of Justice Thursday in response to a petition requesting work permits and health insurance for Palestinian asylum seekers in Israel. On Sunday, the court is due to hear the petition filed by groups including Physicians for Human Rights, HIAS, Kav LaOved and the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants.

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Palestinians who flee to Israel are not eligible for refugee status because the state claims the UN refugee convention does not apply to them. They can, however, be classified as “threatened” and receive temporary residence permits if they prove to Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank that their lives are in danger.

These permits do not let Palestinians work in Israel or receive nonurgent medical services. As a result, these asylum seekers live in Israel for extended periods without jobs or basic medical care. If they return to the West Bank or Gaza for a visit, their permits are often revoked.

The prosecution said it makes a “fundamental distinction” between Palestinians who are threatened due to suspicion of collaboration and those who flee for reasons of “welfare.” The latter includes Palestinians who escaped the territories because of domestic violence, their sexual or gender identity, or a lifestyle unaccepted in Palestinian society.

According to the prosecutors, residence permits that are awarded to suspected collaborators will now include a work permit, but other Palestinians with “threatened” status will not receive one.

They may, however, request a work permit in accordance with criteria such as age and family status, and if the industry they apply for is suffering a labor shortage, such as construction. Those requests will be submitted by employers, making asylum seekers dependent on them.

The Erez crossing on the Gaza border last year, unrelated to collaboration or LGBTQ issues.Credit: Josh Breiner

Palestinians who apply for asylum in Israel due collaboration suspicions have rarely been granted permits. From 2016 to 2019, 4,284 residence permit requests were filed for such Palestinians who received death threats, but only 11 – 0.2 percent – were granted.

According to the most recent petition, 1,000 such requests are made each month, and only 15 to 20 are considered. The petition did not note how many of those are granted.

The state said Palestinians apply for asylum in Israel to “find a long-term solution” in another country or in the West Bank. It added that in 2013 an interministerial committee ruled that the Palestinian Authority is responsible for the welfare of Palestinians.

The applicants must prove that the danger is posed by a Palestinian government official or employee, and that the PA is not protecting them from harm.

“There is no factual basis to the claim that there are general threats in the region on the basis of sexual orientation,” the prosecutors wrote. “The Palestinian Authority does not systematically persecute people because of their sexual orientation.”

The Palestinians with threatened status are entitled to emergency treatment and to care for diseases such as tuberculosis and AIDS. “An emergency does not include cancer or kidney treatments, for example,” said attorney Adi Lustigman, who presented the petition with attorney Meirav Ben Ze’ev.

“And why do they need to reach a state of emergency to receive treatment? Also, emergency treatment costs money and creates debts for the threatened people and the hospitals, and if they want to come in for additional care in the future, they won’t be treated until they’ve paid the debt.”

Palestinian asylum seekers suffer special conditions in Israel. For example, according to an arrangement with the Meuhedet health maintenance organization, minors without legal status receive subsidized health insurance, and the Health Ministry wants to extend this to about 30,000 adult asylum seekers. But Palestinian minors who flee the territories are excluded from this plan.

“The response once again shows intolerable obtuseness, especially regarding the most vulnerable people whom the state has recognized as threatened and persecuted,” said Zoe Gutzeit, the head of the migrant and refugee program at Physicians for Human Rights Israel.

“Beyond the basic ethnic discrimination that prevents them from receiving protection and social benefits here, the state now wants to discriminate between those who were declared collaborators and persecuted LGBTQ people. Both of these groups have to eat, both need medical care and support. Abandoning them forces them into a life on the fringes of society, at risk of exploitation and violence.”

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