State to Disclose Secrets of Citizenship Process

The Population Registrar will for the first time divulge the examination process by which it grants Israeli citizenship and resident status to applicants, a Jerusalem District Court ruled yesterday.

Judge Yudit Tzur said the ministry had routinely and intentionally withheld information from the public and ordered the Interior Ministry's department to post its "complete list of rules and procedures" on its Web site within 30 days.

"The need for immediate disclosure stems from the authority invested in the ministry that sometimes affects basic rights of the first degree, such as family rights, the rights of minors and of residency status; the right to liberty, and more," she wrote. She rejected the ministry's request for a six-month deferral and said the ministry was overdue in making its guidelines available to the public.

To date, few of the Interior Ministry's practices on procedures of issuing citizenship to non-Israeli spouses, revoking citizenships and granting asylum to refugees have been fully revealed. Those that have were often only partially disclosed, or were entirely false. By keeping its regulations a secret, the Population Registrar has prevented Israeli citizenship applicants and human rights groups from reviewing and scrutinizing its decisions, moves that have sometimes denied them of citizenship or resident status, and even driver's licenses.

"The Interior Ministry has not been upholding the laws and instructions and has been irrespective of court room rulings," Tzur wrote in her decision. "Over the years, the courts repeatedly told the Interior Ministry for not revealing its procedures as required by law, but nothing was done - such improper conduct has been taking place for years with the respondent not upholding the law."

Attorney Oded Feller filed the petition on behalf of five human rights groups: The Association for Civil Rights in Israel; Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; Hotline for Migrant Workers; Kav La'Oved; and the Center for the Defense of the Individual.

"It is not for no reason that all the organizations dealing with human rights united to file the petition," the judge wrote. "It's enough to look at the longstanding 'history' of refraining from publishing rules and regulations by the respondent to grasp the seriousness of the situation."

She added: "Needy persons, lacking means, and foreigners, who have no knowledge of the language; to these people information regarding such procedures is like 'air to breath.' They have the elementary right to know how their status and rights will be dealt with by the Interior Ministry and they cannot wait."

Last month, the Interior Ministry reported a hike in the number of applicants for Israeli citizenship in East Jerusalem.

An Interior Ministry official was unable to provide specific figures but said there has been an increase of hundreds.

Arab residents of the city - who by and large refused to receive Israeli citizenship when its eastern half was annexed, and instead opted for permanent resident status - had allegedly become interested in becoming Israeli citizens in wake of said talks over dividing Jerusalem between Israel and the Palestinians.