According to Israeli authorities, Muhammed Arikat is a visitor in his own country. He is a Palestinian from the village of Abu Dis, part of which is considered by Israel to be in Jerusalem and the other part in the West Bank. Apart from the years he spent working in Kuwait (where Palestinians cannot become citizens), he has lived all his life in Abu Dis.
The Israeli Ministry of the Interior has refused family reunification petitions from Mr. Arikat’s wife, Rada, who is registered as a Permanent Resident of Jerusalem. Arikat can now stay with his family only on a one-to-two-month visitor’s permit. He is unable to work because of his “visitor” status, and he fears deportation if the authorities refuse to renew his permit.
Furthermore, two of their children have been unable to obtain the identity cards Palestinians must carry with them everywhere in their historic homeland. Their unregistered son may be deported at any time.1
The Arikats’ story is by no means unique. After the signing of the Oslo accord, the Israelis are still up to their old tricks, trying to create in Palestine that place depicted in long-discredited Zionist propaganda: “a land without people for a people without land.” They have exploited the delay in negotiating on Jerusalem to further disenfranchise Palestinian Jerusalemites and their West Bank families, by refusing family reunification requests and canceling residency rights.
The U.N. Partition Plan of 1947 did not assign Jerusalem to either the Israeli or Palestinian states-to-be. Instead, it designated the city as a “corpus separatum,” to be governed by an international authority, since the Old City (located in East Jerusalem) contains shrines holy to all three monotheistic faiths.
In the 1948 fighting, however, the Israelis occupied West Jerusalem and Jordanian forces occupied the eastern part of the city.
In the June 1967 war, Israeli forces accomplished a long-time goal by seizing the Jordanian-occupied West Bank and the rest of Jerusalem. Shortly after the war, the Israeli government declared Jerusalem the unified capital of Israel and a permanent part of the state. Israel closed down the Palestinian High Court on the east side, and moved some Israeli governmental institutions from West to East Jerusalem, including (ironically) the Ministry of Justice.
In addition, the Israeli government redrew the boundaries of the Jerusalem municipality to include as much undeveloped West Bank land as possible, thus providing sites for construction of housing for enough Jews to offset the Arab population of East Jerusalem. However, some Arab villages which had belonged to Jerusalem according to the Jordanian authorities who governed East Jerusalem from 1949-1967 found themselves excluded.
Israeli actions are aimed at reducing the number of Palestinians entitled to live in Jerusalem.
In this way, the Israelis hoped to “Judaize” Jerusalem, crushing any Palestinian hope of regaining control even of East Jerusalem to make it the capital of a Palestinian state. Although the international community, including the U.S. government, has refused to accept Israeli annexation, regarding East Jerusalem as occupied territory just like the rest of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, every Israeli prime minister since 1967 has reiterated Israel’s intention to keep Jerusalem the undivided capital of the Jewish state. The Zionist plan is to isolate the Arab inhabitants of East Jerusalem, surrounding them with Jewish neighborhoods and cutting them off from direct access to the West Bank areas that will be returned to Palestinian control under the autonomy agreement.
Whatever the ultimate fate of the West Bank, Israel’s goal is to prevent the Palestinians from retaining any political power either on the national or even the municipal level in Jerusalem. In July 1994, for example, the Israeli government introduced a new law to forbid the PLO and the Palestinian National Authority from “conducting any political activities, or creating any political or government institutions in East Jerusalem.”2 This bill makes a mockery of Israel’s recognition of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Oslo.
As in the other areas under Israeli occupation, the Israeli policy toward Palestinian residency and family reunification is cloaked in a guise of legality. Underneath the legalese, however, it is clear that Israeli Interior Ministry actions are aimed at reducing the number of Palestinians entitled to live in Jerusalem and to have access to such services as public schooling and national health insurance.
Uncounted Equals Non-Existent
When they first annexed East Jerusalem, Israeli authorities conducted a census. Palestinians who were not present in Jerusalem at the time of the 1967 census (because of study or commercial or family business abroad or wartime flight) were deprived of their residency status. In this way, some 8,000 Jerusalemites lost their right to live in their city.3
The remaining 66,000 Jerusalem residents were issued ID cards as “Permanent Residents of the State of Israel.” These were not honored, however, if the Arab residents established their “center of life” elsewhere. This was the case, for example, for Jerusalemites driven by high rents in the city to seek less expensive West Bank housing. Even retention of their “permanent resident” status did not give Jerusalemites the rights of citizens. It only permitted them and their children to stay in Jerusalem, so long as the fathers succeeded in registering their children on their Jerusalem ID cards.
The Jerusalem ID is required to enter the city without special permission papers, to buy a house, to get a job and to receive taxpayer benefits like health insurance, social security, and public schooling.
However, the Israelis have abused the “center of life” criteria continually to deny Jerusalem residents re-entry rights. Ziad Latif (not his real name) is one of these. In 1983, he left his Jerusalem home to study in the United States. In order to receive exit papers from the authorities, he was required to leave his Jerusalem ID card at the Interior Ministry. Four years later, after he had completed his studies, Mr. Latif was informed by Israeli authorities that he had lost his right to live in Jerusalem. Since 1987, he has been prohibited from entering Israeli-controlled territory, even for a temporary visit.
Mr. Latif is one of more than 50,000 Palestinian Jerusalemites who have been denied Permanent Residency in their home city, which now has a total population of 150,000. These Jerusalemites lost their rights when their villages were drawn out of Jerusalem’s borders, when they were absent from home in 1967, or when they moved to another location, even temporarily. The only way for these or other “Non-Resident” Palestinians to live in Jerusalem legally is to obtain permission for family reunification with a “Permanent Resident” spouse, parent, child, or sibling.
The Israeli government’s policy on family reunification is a bureaucratic nightmare. It is designed to pacify gullible human rights critics while frustrating Palestinians. The procedure is as follows: The closest Jerusalem resident relative of the person desiring family reunification must apply to the Interior Ministry on his or her behalf. The application fee of 350 shekels ($115) is non-refundable and must be paid again with each new attempt. Then the applicant must wait months or even years for an official response.
Until this year, the Interior Ministry’s criteria for granting family reunification had never been publicly stated. However, it was known that Interior rejected all petitions from Resident wives applying for their Non-Resident husbands, and all applications presented by or on behalf of former political prisoners. Oftentimes people were forced to pay the equivalent of $2,000 or $3,000 to a “mediator,” meaning a Palestinian collaborator with the Israeli authorities, in order to buy a reunification from the Ministry. Nor was marriage by itself considered a reason to allow the applicant to join a spouse in Jerusalem.
Last April, however, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel successfully challenged these policies. Assenting to an Association argument that the policy was biased against women applying for family reunification, the court ruled in favor of an East Jerusalem woman appealing the deportation of her British husband. Forced to issue public, revised guidelines on the policy for the first time ever, the Interior Ministry stated that women now could apply for their Non-Resident husbands.
However, the Ministry stipulated that former political prisoners still would be denied reunification. Since a majority of young West Bank men have been incarcerated at some point during the intifada, a huge section of the population remains ineligible.
Refusing to let persons with “security records” live in Jerusalem puts Israel in violation not only of international law but also of minimum standards of fairness. First, the Israelis as an occupying power in East Jerusalem are prohibited by the Fourth Geneva Convention from altering the normal life of the civilians in such matters as residency with their families. Second, the security record of the relative submitting the application should never be considered as relevant, since the request is on behalf of a different person. Third, few persons with a security record have ever had an opportunity to defend themselves in a court of law since they were held without trial in “administrative detention.” And finally, prisoners who actually received legal process have served their sentences. They should not be doubly punished, nor should their families.
Double Jeopardy and Group Punishment
The family of Mahmoud Salamat knows about double jeopardy and group punishment. He is a Permanent Resident of Jerusalem who was arrested in 1968 and sentenced to 25 years imprisonment for membership in an illegal organization. (All PLO factions were outlawed.) After serving 17 years and being released, he married and applied for family reunification for his wife, Rabiha, a refugee living in Deheisheh Camp in the West Bank.
Twice the Salamats were refused family reunification as punishment for his past political activities. In addition, they were denied the monthly children’s allowance that all residents of Jerusalem and Israel are entitled to receive. Mr. Salamat was told-contrary to fact-that he and his children are not Permanent Residents.
The registration of children on Jerusalem ID cards proves problematic for many Palestinians. According to Israeli law, the children’s father must register them as Residents on his ID card. Children of Jerusalem mothers cannot be registered there, and children of men without ID cards (for example, refugees living in Jordan) can’t be registered anywhere under Israeli control. The problem is that children who are not registered cannot receive the public education and health care paid for by their parents’ tax dollars. Furthermore, when they reach 16, unregistered children will not be able to obtain the ID cards they must produce whenever asked by a soldier.
Sometimes Jerusalemites are able to resolve these bureaucratic nightmares by collecting the required documentation and returning ad nauseum to the line stretching outside the Ministry of the Interior. But Palestinians believe that Israel keeps them so busy trying to meet their basic needs and claim their human rights, such as living with their families and taking care of their children, that they will not have time to earn a decent living or organize politically. Instead of spending their time on normal pursuits, Palestinians living under occupation are forced to run back and forth to the Interior Ministry, emptying their wallets each time.
Not only do these policies contravene the internationally recognized right to family reunification, they also create separate legal regimes applying to Jerusalem Palestinians and to West Bank and Gaza Strip residents. Like the physical closure of Jerusalem to West Bank and Gaza Palestinians, these differences seem contrived to divide the Palestinians under occupation among themselves.
Since late 1992, for example, there have been some improvements in family reunification policy in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but not in Jerusalem. Now spousal reunification in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is automatic for persons who entered between 1990 and August 1993, and the criteria and quota numbers to be accepted are public information. This limited success can be attributed to efforts of human rights groups as well as to the international scrutiny of Israeli policies during the negotiations.
Changes for the Worse
For Palestinian Jerusalemites, however, the policy changes have been for the worse. Now, in order to receive family reunification, the Interior Ministry has stated that Jerusalemite wives must provide documentary evidence of current residence in Jerusalem, instead of just being “Permanent Residents” of Jerusalem since 1967. (In the Interior Ministry’s vocabulary, “Permanent” seems to be a relative term.) In tandem with the delay in negotiating on Jerusalem, this policy provides the Interior Ministry very effective legal cover, which human rights lawyers believe to be unchallengeable in the High Court. If this policy is implemented, however, Jerusalem residency rights will be taken from tens of thousands of Palestinian Jerusalemites who currently live outside the city.
These policies on Palestinian Residency go hand in hand with Israel’s intention to finish settlement projects in East Jerusalem, in contravention of the U.S. loan guarantees agreement. That agreement, concluded by then President George Bush (Senior) and then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1992, stipulated that there would be no further settlement in the occupied territories. However, since the Israeli government does not consider East Jerusalem to be occupied territory, the loan guarantees have been used to speed up settlement construction there. Thus, in 1993 the Israelis attained a long-sought goal: By encouraging the influx of settlers and by evicting “illegal” Palestinian residents like Muhammed Arikat, they achieved a Jewish majority in East Jerusalem.
Not only has the U.S.-Israeli agreement been grossly violated, but the spirit of the Oslo Declaration of Principles has also been betrayed. During the negotiations, the pace of Jewish settlement in “Greater Jerusalem” actually quickened, and the Israelis are continuing to push the boundaries of the Jerusalem district into the West Bank.
Plans exist, for example, to integrate into the Jerusalem municipality settlements on the roads to the Palestinian cities of Ramallah and Jericho. The government’s method is to confiscate Palestinian land for “security purposes” or “public purposes” and later turn it into Israeli settlements. This process bolsters the aggressiveness of right-wing Israeli settlers and diminishes what’s left of the Palestinian territories.
Exploiting the Palestinian concession to go ahead with implementation of the accords without first settling the status of Jerusalem, the Israelis behave as if they no longer need to conform to international standards for treatment of a civilian population under occupation. This supposition was revealed in a May 6, 1994 letter from the Israeli Embassy in the United States to the American Friends Service Committee Family Reunification Project in Chicago.
The letter declared, “As Jerusalem is not part of the territories [sic], the family reunification policy mentioned above is not applicable to Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. According to the guidelines established by the Declaration of Principles signed by the PLO and Israel on Sept. 13, 1993, any issues involving Jerusalem will be discussed during final status negotiations.” The Israeli government is using the delay in negotiating on Jerusalem to justify its refusal to discuss any human rights issue, including family reunification policy, publicly or in the courts.
Meanwhile the Israelis are consolidating their administration of Palestinian Jerusalem so that in the final status negotiation it will appear adequate to international human rights standards.
If the Palestinians wait to discuss Jerusalem as part of the final status negotiations seven years hence, the Israelis will be free to pursue their objective of cleansing East Jerusalem of its Arab character and population.
1 All case examples in Nathan Krystall, Urgent Issues of Palestinian Residency in Jerusalem (Jerusalem: Alternative Information Center, 1994).
2 “Israeli bill to forbid PLO activities in East Jerusalem,” (translated from Al Quds), The Jerusalem Times, July 22, 1994, p.1.
3 Sample study by Dr. Bernard Sabela, Emigration from Jerusalem (Bethlehem University, 1993).
Katherine M. Metres is honors graduate of the University of Michigan. This article was written with the cooperation of Ingrid Gassner-Jaradat, coordinator of the Project for Palestinian Residency and Family Reunification of the Alternative Information Center in Jerusalem.