When talking about love, there was no time to think about the so-called “centre of life” law and the family reunification complications when a young man from Jerusalem decides to marry a West Banker. With passion and eagerness, they decided to get married; they had their own dreams and expectations. They decided to live in Jerusalem, travel abroad, and Christine dreamt of driving her own car in the streets of Jerusalem. She wanted to get a residency permit like her husband to go on with her life and work, and have children, and to be able to visit her family and relatives freely without any trouble.
Christine got married to the man she loved and always wanted. They had a very beautiful wedding ceremony at a church in Jerusalem, but unfortunately not many of her close friends, relatives, and extended family were able to attend. Restrictions of movement and lack of permits for the invitees did not allow them to pass through checkpoints and attend Christine’s well-organized wedding. And hence the challenges and complications started. Many questions came into her head: “What would happen if my permit expires?” “Can I still stay in our beautiful apartment in Jerusalem under one roof with my husband?” “Can my parents, brothers and sisters come and visit me in my apartment in Jerusalem?” Now there is no time for love under such stress and barriers. It is time to think how to overcome this and stay strong.
To understand what is happening with Christine and her husband, we must know the background of their story. Unfortunately, Palestinian women from the West Bank married to Jerusalemites suffer a lot due to a military occupation that controls their lives, deprives them of exercising their human rights and makes it hard for them to move freely. Nevertheless, the Israeli law makes it hard for Palestinians to marry and live with whom they choose. Their dignity has been taken by force from them; thus, women are considered the most vulnerable within the Palestinian society.
Israel has always been using intimidation and double-standard measures to terrorize and frighten citizens and thus minimizing the number of Palestinians in East Jerusalem. Permanent residency differs significantly from citizenship. The primary right granted to permanent residents is to live and work in Israel without the need for special permits. Permanent residents are also entitled to social benefits provided by the National Insurance Institute and to health insurance. A permanent resident in East Jerusalem married to a woman from the West Bank or Gaza Strip must submit, on behalf of the spouse, a request for family unification. If these spouses couldn’t provide the required documents to the Ministry of Interior, the women will be in danger of suffering the loss of their permits or revocation of their residency status, resulting in separation from their husbands and their children.
The family unification procedure consists of two complicated phases. First, couples need to prove that the “centre of life” for them is Jerusalem, and to present a clean criminal record. Usually, if all goes well, this procedure lasts approximately five years with lots of fees paid to a lawyer, who facilitates the reunification process with the Ministry of Interior and other relevant parties. Second, if the application is approved, the applicant receives a temporary permit that lasts for 15 months, which may be renewed for an additional 12 months, without obtaining any social and civil rights. If at any time the application for renewal is rejected or family unification is not approved, married women are not allowed to stay within the municipality boundaries of Jerusalem and are obliged to move behind the Separation Wall. They usually move to area C.
If the husband or one of the family members is suspected of being politically active or is involved in any security activities, his wife, mother, and sisters are the ones who are punished and a residency revocation is filed against them as a punitive measure imposed by the Israeli occupation authorities. Many non-governmental and human rights organizations continue to challenge this policy of residency revocation, as it only affects the Arab residents, proving its discriminatory nature. In addition, through public advocacy and legal work, these organizations actively protest against the Citizenship Law which currently makes it extremely difficult for Palestinians from the West Bank to gain residency or citizenship while making it effortless for Jewish immigrants from Western countries that are thousands of miles away.
The consequences of not having residency status are many. The hardest measure is that, from time to time, women have to go to the Population Authority Office and ask the District Coordination and Liaison Bureau for a permit to remain in Israel and live with their husbands under one roof.
Palestinians from the West Bank marrying a Jerusalemite can’t drive in Jerusalem or have a bank account or have an ID card. Women must buy their own health insurance, which costs a lot of money.
Travelling abroad is another issue where the couple must use two different airports to travel.
"Ban on Family Unification" - Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law (Temporary Order): this legislation deprives Palestinians with Israeli citizenship or residency from extending their legal status to a spouse holding a Palestinian identity card and passport, and denies them their right to live together by choice.
Although the law was originally enacted as a temporary order, its validity has been repeatedly extended by the Israel parliament (Knesset) making it in effect a permanent law. Thousands of Palestinian families have been affected by the law, forced to split apart, move abroad, or live in Israel in fear of constant deportation. Of course, Israeli Jewish settlers living in the occupied Palestinian Territories are excluded from all this hassle.
Israel's law blocking family unification destroys the lives of thousands of Palestinians and hinders movement and right to life.
Hopefully the international community and the heads of churches can exert real pressure on the Israeli government to abide by international laws.