Background on residency in East Jerusalem

Residents of the occupied Palestinian territory, including residents of East Jerusalem, like people the world over, have the right to marry at will, to live together with their families, and to choose the place of their residence. By arbitrarily denying entry and by refusing to accept and properly process family unification applications, Israel, as an occupying power, is blatantly violating international humanitarian law and international human rights law, causing severe harm to the Palestinian civilian population under occupation and their social and economic institutions.

 Revocation of residency When Israel occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967 it gave the Palestinians living in East Jerusalem the status of permanent residents. This status lays the practical and legal grounds used by the Israeli Ministry of Interior to cancel residency rights of thousands of Palestinians if certain conditions could be proved. For example, any Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem who leaves the country for 7 years or more, may lose his/her residency right in Jerusalem. For this purpose, a person living elsewhere in the West Bank or in the Gaza Strip (in Ramallah or Rafah, for example) is considered to be living abroad. Any Palestinian resident of Jerusalem who obtains citizenship or permanent residency in any other country may also lose residency rights in Jerusalem.

Over the years Israel managed to cancel the residency of thousands of Palestinians who were studying, working or living abroad. (For details, see The Quiet Deportation: Revocation of Residency of East Jerusalem Palestinians, Hamoked, 1997). This policy comes hand in hand with Israel’s aim to limit the number of Palestinians living in Jerusalem to less than 22% of total population of the city.
Proof of residency in Jerusalem is an ongoing requirement to maintain the right to reside in the city and is monitored by the Israeli National Insurance Institute (NII). The Israeli Ministry of Interior relies on the NII to provide evidence that any particular Palestinian is actually living in the city. The NII send their investigators to the neighborhoods and homes of Jerusalem residents to check whether indeed they reside in the city.

Family unification Over the years it has also become increasingly difficult for residents of Jerusalem to successfully complete the process of a family unification applications for a family member. Even when successful, the process is lengthy, tedious and involves exposing the person to consequences of limiting their ability to practice basic rights. It is particularly difficult for a resident of Jerusalem to successfully obtain an approval for a family unification application for a spouse with a West Bank or Gaza identity card.

Until 2002, the Israeli Ministry of Interior adopted a policy referred to as the “gradual process” whereby the spouse holding a Jerusalem identity card could apply for the spouse with a Palestinian / West Bank identity card for family unification upon providing proof of residency in the city for five years. In practice, however, the process took more than five years since, in some cases it took months before the person could physically enter the office of the Ministry of Interior to submit an application. Proof of a “clean” security record for the person involved is an additional requirement. (See below for details.)

In 2002 the situation changed drastically. The entire process of processing family unification applications was put on hold. In May 2002 the Israeli authorities issued a regulation stipulating that the female Palestinian spouse is eligible to submit a family unification application if she is 25 years old or more. For a male spouse the age limit for eligibility to submit an application is 35 years or more. In 2003 this regulation was turned into a binding law.

The other constraint imposed on eligibility to submit family unification applications has to do with the security and criminal record of the individual submitting the application. Three years ago this requirement was extended to include other family members of the applicant (children, children from other marriages, siblings and their spouses and children). Any security problem involving any of these family members will prompt the Ministry of Interior to cancel the application even if the person has actually been living in the city for years. In most of these cases, the details of the security evidence is presented secretively to an Israeli judge by the Israeli secret service and is not made known to the lawyer. This means the evidence cannot be challenged or appealed.

If all the above conditions are met, the application is eligible. Applicants are then given a piece of paper as proof that his/her application has been accepted. This paper is valid for one year and can be renewed for another year upon review and submission of the same evidence of residency and clean security records all over again. On the basis of this paper a permit allowing the person to be in Jerusalem is issued by the military commander of the occupied territory. The permit is valid for six months at a time. This permit does not give residency rights to the spouse in question but rather allows the person to cross a checkpoint and enter Jerusalem. It also allows the person to stay in Jerusalem overnight. The person with this kind of permit has no rights whatsoever. S/he has no right to health or social services, is not covered by the applicable labor laws and is not even allowed to drive a car in Jerusalem.

It is not uncommon that a period of time when the first permit expires that the person spends weeks if not months without such a permit. The restriction on this person’s ability to live a normal life with his or her family is severely hindered. It even exposes the person to the risk of being arrested by the police.

Documents of interest