Will Israel Make Good on the Palestinian Authority's Residency Promise?

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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A demonstration in favor of Palestinian family unification, in July.
A demonstration in favor of Palestinian family unification, in July.Credit: Emil Salman
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

By Friday the activists of the movement "Family Reunification: My Right" will know whether the promise made to them at the beginning of the week will be kept. By the end of 2021 they will know whether they, and like them thousands of spouses and parents of Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, will finally receive residency status, and will no longer be defined by Israel as “illegal residents” in their homes because the entry visa in their passports expired long ago.

The promise was made by a senior Palestinian official. The problem is that only Israel can implement the promise. It is the only entity that decides who, when and how many nuclear Palestinian families will be entitled to have Mom or Dad receive residency status in the Palestinian territories it occupied in 1967.

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Reminder: In the context of gestures promised by Defense Minister Benny Gantz to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and after 10 months of protest and public pressure on the Palestinian officials, in October Israel approved residency status in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to 1,200 spouses. Of them, 442 were born to parents with Palestinian residency, and for various reasons Israel has refused until now to allow them to be registered as residents. The others, 778 people, were far fewer than the 5,000 people that PA officials promised would be granted residency status.

Since October, when days and weeks passed without the publication of a new list, the disappointment and despair among the activists has steadily increased, and their confidence in the ability and desire of senior PA officials to represent them faithfully vis-a-vis Israel has dwindled.

At the end of November the regular protest in front of the Palestinian Civil Affairs Ministry in the West Bank city of Al-Bireh was renewed. This past Sunday the protest vigil was declared a house of mourning: Several family members of activists died recently in their places of residence abroad, without being able to see their loved ones. As is customary in a house of mourning, bitter coffee and dates were served. Instead of the rhythmic patriotic songs played at the vigils, verses from the Koran were recited on the loudspeaker. “I saw my mother dying via the phone screen,” said Dua’a al-Hassan, whose mother had died in Jordan two days earlier. Had Al-Hassan traveled to see her mother while she was ill, the Israeli authorities would not have allowed her to return, because she violated the conditions of her visa and overstayed to live with her husband and children.

Al-Hassan wept, and was joined by those who were present. They had already stood there for about an hour and a quarter beneath the windows of the Civil Affairs Ministry. Their calls to the senior officials to come down to speak to them and to explain what’s happening were not heeded. One of the placards they carried featured a hospital bed and below it the words: “No, we don’t forgive you.” Those are the words that Al-Hassan said over the loudspeaker too.

When she finished speaking there was a rustle at the entrance to the building. Deputy Minister Ayman Qandil came down to speak to the demonstrators. Behind a mask and in a low voice he promised something, which the majority didn’t hear. Those who were near him passed on the message to the others: “He promised that by Friday we’ll have news. That a long list of recipients of residency status will be published. That next week we’ll start receiving identity cards. That within a few days we’ll be able to travel to visit our parents abroad whom we haven’t seen for 10 or 15 years.”

Within moments the sad and angry looks were replaced with smiles. “It’s impossible that he would make such a promise in front of all of us and in front of TV cameras if it weren’t true,” said the activists, trying to encourage themselves.

If the promise really is kept, it would be a significant relief for an as yet unknown number of Palestinians. But as long as Israel continues to deny the right of Palestinians to a family life of their choosing, this movement or others like it will continue to protest. And as long as the PA adheres to its role as a subcontractor of the occupation, it will be the address for its people’s anger at the Israelis’ means of oppression, control and destruction.

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