Living Deaths

Anwar Ghazem's entire world is his father's apartment in East Jerusalem, located near Damascus Gate, along with its courtyard and a stall in the market down below. If he goes even a few dozen meters from his home, he will be arrested by Border Policemen, many of whom are permanently stationed in that area.

When Odeh Aliada of the unrecognized village of Bir Daj was hit by a car, he rejected the driver's urgings that he go to a hospital, even though he had suffered internal injuries. His fear of the Israeli system was greater than his fear of injury.

When Ghazem proposed marriage to his beloved, her father told him that there would be something to talk about only if he acquired an identity card.

For his part, Aliada has spent his entire life as a herdsman, first tending sheep and then tending camels; he has no chance of finding steady employment.

These two are the protagonists of the first two installments of the series "The Nonexistent," published in Haaretz over the last few weeks, which deals with Israelis that have no formal legal status, neither here nor anywhere else in the world.

What all of these people have in common is that they are not ordinary illegal immigrants. They were born here, or have lived here for dozens of years, and they have nowhere else to go. However, due solely to bureaucratic reasons, they have no legal status here. And because they have no status, they have no identity card; they can be arrested at any moment; they have no health insurance; they cannot get a driver's license; and they cannot work legally. They are present absentees, the ghosts of the Population Administration.

Something else that they all have in common is that their problem will not go away, because they cannot be deported. There is nowhere to send them. Therefore, the state has two options: Either it can grant them residency rights, which would enable them to work and support themselves and their families, or it can leave them with their current transparent status.

Many of us have hardened our hearts to the troubles of non-Jews. But whether we solve this problem of not, it will have no influence on the demographic balance, because these people are here, even if they are not counted.

If, however, the problem is not solved, it will continue to worsen, and the numbers of people affected will triple and even quadruple in the near future. Dozens of Bedouin women who lack legal status are giving birth to numerous children, and they pass this terrible nonexistent status on to their offspring. Defense officials speak of a Bedouin intifada in terms of when, not if. It is reasonable to assume that dozens or hundreds of teens who lack legal status, are unable to work, and have no future and no hope will pour a great deal of oil onto this fire.

And why does the Population Administration not solve this problem? Perhaps because its staffers view themselves as guardians of the gates of the Jewish state, via granting legal status to as few non-Jews as possible. The administration's formal response is that anyone can apply for legal status, but the administration will not go out into the field to seek the problem cases. That is a nice answer in theory, but in practice, these are generally people without education, who do not know Hebrew, who do not understand bureaucracy, cannot work and have no money for lawyers. These are the weakest members of society, who have no chance of navigating the Population Administration's obstacle course. But instead of extending a hand to them, we are turning a deaf ear to their suffering and treating them cruelly.

A public committee should be established to propose a solution to the problem of those who lack legal status. The committee should try to locate and identify such people - on the basis of testimony from relatives, local community leaders and the few documents the people possess - and grant them residency rights. Until then, every time Israeli society looks in a mirror, the "nonexistent" will peer out from the edges and demand vengeance for this living death into which we have pushed them.