Muhammad likes to play football, so he checked out the local football club. “They said they couldn’t let me play because I had to have an ID to join,” he said. “They go to places where I can’t go. I can’t even enjoy a hobby.”
Muhammed is the victim of practices by Israel’s Interior Ministry that seek to limit the number of Palestinians in Jerusalem.
Muhammad’s father describes what it’s like for his son to be denied a basic human right. “He’s a living human being without a name, without a personality, without an ID, without a self,” said the frustrated father. “He can’t have dreams like others. He can’t be a human being like others. He can’t go out, fall in love, get a job, or have savings.”
The story of Muhammad is repeated all too often in Palestinian communities in and around Jerusalem, where people seeking to register their children are forced to break through a bureaucratic wall they don’t have the resources to crack.
The Society of Saint Ives, the Catholic Center for Human Rights of the Latin Patriarchate in the Holy Land, helps children like Muhammad and their families by providing free legal services.
The organization provides legal aid to the needy, oppressed, and marginalized and tries to raise the awareness of human and civil rights in the wider society.
“The Society of Saint Yves believes that every human being is created in the image of God and the dignity and rights of everybody are God given,” explained Raffoul Rofa, Saint Ives director.
As he oversees the work of resisting and combating the impact of the occupation through legal actions, he tries to promote justice and fairness for everybody.
Rofa wishes for a sea change.
I think in order for us to see a change in this situation, world governments need to change their political stance and be fair,” he said. “The world needs to decide that there is a solution for the ‘Palestinian problem’ that is fair to everyone.”
Until that day, Rofa and the other lawyers at Saint Yves will keep working on the ground, day after day, defending people whose basic human rights may otherwise be denied.
“It can be something as simple as registering a child,” he said. “That’s what keeps me and my colleagues going.”
Every bit of the work Saint Yves does affects the generations to come. “If we help one child to get registered, that means the child becomes eligible for proper medical care, proper education, and all the benefits children are entitled to,” said Rofa. “It allows them to have a travel document should they wish to go abroad with their parents.”
On the other hand, children who aren’t registered are unable to get further education or proper healthcare, and they can’t leave Jerusalem. Until August 2022 Saint Yves has dealt with 5,620 legal files, in addition to 261 child registration files that were opened at the organization. Most Palestinians in East Jerusalem are permanent residents of Israel, and their children are not automatically registered in the population registry, but rather the parent who is from Jerusalem must apply with the Israeli Ministry of Interior and meet complicated legal procedures that do not favor them. The procedure gets complicated if one of the parents holds a West Bank ID card, or if the family lives in the vicinity of Jerusalem or outside city boundaries.
“We don’t succeed in every case,” said Rofa. “But we try our best.”
Rofa asks for global prayers—prayers for the strength to keep helping children and families.
“The atmosphere in which we work is not an easy one,” he said. “The system works against us.”
Rofa also prays for a safe, secure space in which to carry on. "Many other organizations are attacked because of their work,” he said. “We pray for a space that gives us the freedom to provide the services we do to help those in need.”