Waiting for Citizenship? Don't Hold Your Breath

Seven months have passed since the final date on which children of foreign workers and their relatives were able to file for citizenship. Yet the campaign to naturalize them is still far from complete. A total of 124 families, 15 percent of all those who filed for recognition, are still nervously waiting for a final decision on whether they will be granted permanent residence or be deported. On the face of it, the families' current situation is relatively good: As long as no decision is made, they are not at risk of deportation. But, in practice, this is an ongoing nightmare of waiting for a decision that will determine their future.

The Interior Ministry reports that 378 requests have already been approved. It can reasonably be assumed that these children and their relatives number about 1,100 individuals who have been granted legal status, thus becoming new Israeli citizens. Initially, the process grants the children permanent residence while their parents are granted temporary residence. After the children serve in the Israel Defense Forces, they may become citizens and their parents may become permanent residents.

A total of 318 requests were denied and 226 appeals were filed. The highest profile case among the appellants was that of Tel Aviv first-grader Herzliya Kines, who was only four months shy of the decisive sixth birthday that would have granted her citizenship. To date, no appeal has been accepted and all the families, including Herzliya's, have been subjected to many months of anxious waiting. In recent months, sources in the Interior Ministry have repeatedly said that those cases in which the children's birthdays have barely missed the set deadline, like that of the Kines family, will receive affirmative responses.

Interior Ministry Spokeswoman Sabine Haddad reports that the rulings in about 50 cases are delayed because families have yet to produce the required documents. The other cases are in the final stage before a ruling. According to her, responses to appeals are imminent. Outgoing Population Registry director Sassi Katzir has been asked to continue handling these appeals to prevent any further delay. Considering the fact that Katzir has failed to complete the process of addressing these appeals until now, this is not necessarily good news for the waiting families.

"Unified" terrorists

Yesterday, the Knesset was prepared to accept final readings of the amendment to the Citizenship Law, which severely limits unification of families of Palestinian and Israeli spouses. The amendment extends the law until the end of July 2008; it makes the law applicable to residents of "enemy states," as well as the Palestinian Authority; and it calls for the establishment of a committee to grant status on humanitarian grounds. The committee will include a majority of representatives of the defense establishment (the Shin Bet security service, the IDF Civil Administration and the Population Administration). Therefore, the committee is unlikely to grant many exceptional permits.

As is often the case in repeated and protracted deliberations of the Citizenship Law, MKs listened to a presentation by senior Shin Bet officials. The head of the Shin Bet Department for Prevention of Terror and Espionage, who did not provide even the first initial of his name, said in a committee meeting that terror organizations "instruct residents of the territories to enter the family unification process and enlist them after a few years." He reported that 40 percent of Israeli Arabs involved in suicide attacks and attempted suicide attacks in 2006 were members of unified, Palestinian and Israeli families. According to him, the harder the separation fence makes it to enter Israel, the more terror organizations are tempted to enlist individuals holding Israeli identity cards, who can easily pass through checkpoints.

Among other factors, Israeli Arabs who are involved in terror attacks "suggest the location of attacks, where there are a lot of people, where there are only Jews or mainly Jews, and they assist and transport assailants." Despite critical responses from some MKs, the Shin Bet official said his statements were based on intelligence information. He said there was no real decrease in attempted suicide attacks in 2006: In 2005, 56 attacks were thwarted, compared to 55 attacks in 2006. The current average number of daily warnings regarding terror attacks (61) is higher than in January 2006 (48).

The prohibition against the unification of Palestinian-Israeli families was first accepted in a cabinet decision in May 2002. In other words, it expired almost five years ago. In August 2003, the Knesset passed the prohibition as a temporary law. That temporary law is usually referred to as the "Citizenship Law," despite its real title: "The Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law." In the summer of 2005, the law was eased to permit the unification of families of Palestinian men aged 36 and above, and Palestinian women aged 26 and above.

During Tuesday's meeting of the Knesset Interior Committee, committee chairman Ophir Pines-Paz requested that the Population Registry provide statistics, including the number of people who have filed a request for family unification following the concessions made in the law and details on how many of their requests were granted. Avi Lekah, director of the Population Registry's Bureau, had no answers. But Pines-Paz demanded to receive the data before the committee approved the amendment, and the Population Registry director provided the information with unexpected speed.

In the year and a half after the concessions in the law went into effect, from August 2005 until the end of 2006, 2,437 Palestinian-Israeli couples who meet the criteria filed requests for family unification. If the total figure Lekah provided is divided over the five years during which the restrictions were enforced, that figure represents about 500 families per year. A total of 707 requests were approved (about 30 percent), a figure Pines-Paz referred to as a pleasant surprise.

It must be stressed that those whose requests for family unification were granted received neither citizenship nor residential status, merely permits to remain in Israel without any social rights. Moreover, 447 requests (18 percent) were denied. About 1,300 requests, more than half, are still being examined. Lekah reported that 56 requests were denied on the basis of information from the police and 114 were denied based on the objections of the Shin Bet. More than three fourths of the requests, 1,879, were filed in East Jerusalem.

Not even a witness

There is no doubt about it: when the state of Israel wants to hound someone, it knows how to go about it in an impressive manner. Faisal Medadel spent no less than four years in prison because it was not possible to deport him. In the course of that stretch, he was brought to Cyprus twice and brought back twice, like a ping-pong ball. In July 2005, after being returned to Israel, he attempted suicide by slitting his wrists and was lightly injured.

In October 2005, a Custody Court judge, attorney Dan Liberti, ordered Medadel released and taken to Kibbutz Maagan. Liberti severely criticized the state's handling of the case, in particular its factually baseless argument that Medadel constituted a security threat. How did the state respond? It launched two separate legal proceedings against Medadel. One demanded that he be sent back to jail, claiming Liberti was not empowered to release him for the period of one year. A hearing on this case will be held Sunday in the Tel Aviv Administrative Court. In the second proceeding, the state is asking for a court order to forbid Medadel from moving to the kibbutz, arguing that only the justice minister is authorized to approve such a move. At press time, it was still unclear who would represent Medadel, whose previous attorney, Shamai Leibowitz, is now in the United States. Medadel has been unable to find other legal representation.

Medadel, a diver by trade, fled from Somalia after his two brothers were murdered in attacks against the Migden tribe, to which he belongs. He reached Israel legally in 1999 and became an unauthorized resident a year later. A request to grant him refugee status was denied. In 2002 he was arrested in a Tel Aviv cafe after being involved in a brawl. Someone who was also arrested during this incident claimed Medadel had said he was willing to become a shahid (martyr). According to Medadel's account, all he said was that then-prime minister Ariel Sharon was killing many Arabs. Medadel has been kept in prison ever since. Among the evidence brought forward to shore up the claim that he is dangerous was the fact that he had come from Somalia and had lived for a week with another Somali national suspected of membership in Al-Qaida.

In practice, Liberti writes, there is not one witness to the statement Medadel allegedly made. "A person cannot be turned, with one fell swoop, into a bitter enemy of the Jews on the basis of a careless police report. With all due respect, there is no evaluation of the degree of danger [he is alleged to pose] - his case fails to stand up to a minimal test of critical and logical sense."

In a letter sent by attorney Leibowitz to the Interior Ministry, he notes that the UN High Commission for Refugee Affairs "has determined that the situation in Somalia is characterized by anarchy, serious violence and mortal danger." Therefore, he writes, people who fled the country should not be sent back. Leibowitz has accused the state of carrying out an "obsessive vendetta" against Medadel.

For some reason, one of the terms of Medadel's imprisonment is a prohibition against granting interviews to the news media. Avishai Ben-Yaakov, who is responsible for him at Kibbutz Maagan, states he is "integrating excellently." At first he worked in the kitchen of the kibbutz's resort village. Now he works in the mango and date groves. Ben-Yaakov added Leibowitz has submitted an immigration request to the United States on Medadel's behalf.

The Interior Ministry said in response that Medadel is violating the terms of his release by refusing to cooperate with the efforts to settle the matter of his leaving Israel. Therefore, the request to nullify his release is an "entirely professional and legal matter, and certainly the charges of a 'vendetta' and 'hounding' are unfounded."