B’Tselem – Family Separation and Residency – reports

The Prohibition on Family Unification in the Occupied Territories

Since the occupation began in 1967, and especially since the formation of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in 1994, many changes have been made in the control and administration of the Occupied Territories. One thing that has not changed, however, is that both the registration of persons in the population registry and the granting of visitor’s permits remain in Israel’s almost absolute control. Most of the powers transferred to the PA in the framework of the Oslo Agreements in these areas of activity are as brokers between the Palestinian population and the Israeli authorities, with Israel retaining the substantive powers. Israel ‘s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in August 2005 did not substantially change this situation. Although the crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt (Rafah Crossing) has since then been controlled by the PA, the PA is not permitted to allow the entry of persons who are not registered in the population registry unless the person has a visitor’s permit approved in advance by Israel.

The only procedure available to a person who is not registered in the population registry and who desires to be allowed to live lawfully in the Occupied Territories is family unification. A request for family unification may be submitted only by a first-degree relative of an applicant who holds residency status in the Occupied Territories. Most requests are submitted by residents for their wives who are Jordanian nationals of Palestinian origin. The large number of families in which one spouse is a resident and the other a foreigner results from the continuing ties of residents with the Palestinian diaspora and from Israel’s policy which has forced residents to find work, study abroad, and establish families outside the Occupied Territories.

The family unification procedure is closely tied to another bureaucratic procedure: the obtaining of a visitor’s permit. First, a person seeking to be united with his or her family in the Occupied Territories must be physically present in the Territories in order to become registered in the population registry and receive an identity card. Therefore, the possibility of realizing the approval given by Israel depends on receiving a visitor’s permit which enables entry into the Occupied Territories. Presence is also required for the registration of children born abroad to parents who are residents of the Occupied Territories. In this case, too, there is a close connection between the two procedures. Second, given that the family unification process has always taken several years to complete, many persons need to repeatedly obtain visitors’ permits in order to enable them to live together with their families, even for short periods of time. Spouses (mostly wives) of residents who, following petitions to the High Court of Justice, were given “long-term visitor” status which allowed them to remain in the Occupied Territories until the family unification request was processed, also have to renew their visitor’s permits every six months.

Shortly after the outbreak of the second intifada on 29 September 2000, Israel decided not to process requests submitted by Palestinian residents for family unification with their spouses and family members living abroad, and not to issue visitor’s permits to these non-residents (hereafter: the freeze policy). Israel has not explained the purpose of the new policy, stating only that, “‘… because of recent incidents [the outbreak of the second intifada], the handling of requests for family unification in Judea and Samaria has stopped’….”

Despite the new policy, the Palestinian Authority continues to receive new requests for family unification and visitor’s permits, but Israel refuses to process them. Israel also refuses to approve requests that it received prior to the second intifada, except in exceptional instances that it considers “humanitarian cases.”

Tens of thousands of Palestinian residents of the Occupied Territories are married to foreign national non-residents. According to this policy, these residents must file a request for family unification to enable them to live lawfully in the Occupied Territories with their spouses. Since the inception of the freeze policy, the only way for Palestinians to live under one roof with their foreign spouses who are abroad is by emigrating to the spouse’s native land. This position is primarily dictated by political considerations whose objective is to change the demographics of the Occupied Territories by blocking the immigration of spouses of residents of the Occupied Territories into the area and by encouraging the emigration of divided Palestinian families.

Israel ‘s policy totally ignores the social reality existing in the Occupied Territories in which marriage between residents and relatives from outside the area is extremely widespread. In employing this policy, Israel forces residents to make a cruel choice between family separation and leaving their homeland. The Israeli authorities inflict ongoing suffering on hundreds of thousands of persons and force them to live in a new reality. Spouses are unable to live together under one roof. Children grow up in one-parent families. Residents refrain from going abroad for medical treatment out of fear that they will not be allowed to return to their families.

It being almost impossible to obtain a visitor’s permit or approval of family unification, many spouses who were in the area when the freeze policy took effect remained there after their permits expired. As a result, tens of thousands of them have become “persons staying illegally” in the Occupied Territories and are forced to live an underground existence. Out of constant fear of deportation, tens of thousands of foreign women live in the Occupied Territories without any status. They live like prisoners in their homes, unable to lead normal lives.

Denial of the right to family life severely impairs the social, economic, and mental condition of every member of these families. The harm increases day by day as long as the freeze continues.

As of October 2005, the Palestinian Authority had received more than 120,000 requests for family unification submitted by West Bank and Gaza residents that Israel has refused to process. If Israel would begin again to handle family unification requests and apply the quota set in 2000 (4,000 a year), it would take at least thirty years to process all the requests that have accumulated.

The relationship between the residents of the Occupied Territories and the Occupied Territories is like that between citizens and their country, even though the residents do not have the status of citizens of the Occupied Territories. They were born there or lived there for many years after arriving as refugees; most are not citizens or residents of another state and are not immigrants who came to the Occupied Territories from another country, so they have no other homeland to which they can go to live with their families. Their right to maintain a proper family life in the Occupied Territories is a basic right which Israel may not deny. Freezing the procedure for obtaining family unification and visitors’ permits artificially freezes life, in breach of international humanitarian law and the express prohibition set by Israel ‘s Supreme Court.

Of course, Israel may, under international law, take into account its security needs in establishing policy in the Occupied Territories. But the claim of security needs does not entitle it to do whatever it wishes or to trample on the human rights of the Palestinian population. This is precisely what Israel does in implementing its family unification policy in the Occupied Territories .

The government of Israel must begin immediately to process requests for family unification and visitors’ permits so as to enable the residents to exercise their right to live as families in the Occupied Territories within a reasonable period of time. Israel must ignore political and demographic considerations and weigh only its security needs while fully respecting the human rights involved.

Separation of Families – International law

Under international law, the power to decide whether to allow foreigners to enter a country lies within the sole discretion of that country. For this reason, most international human rights conventions do not include unequivocal rights in the matter of immigration, and states did not undertake to allow entry for the purpose of achieving family unification.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child is the only convention that explicitly encourages the signatories to enable family unification of their citizens and residents through allowing entry of family members, as follows:

In accordance with the obligation of States Parties under Article 9, paragraph 1 [to ensure the child’s right to live with both parents], application by a child or his or her parents to enter or leave a State Party for the purpose of family reunification shall be dealt with by States Parties in a positive, humane and expeditious manner. States Parties shall further ensure that the submission of such a request shall entail no adverse consequences for the applicants and for the members of their family. (Article 10(1))

The Convention on the Nationality of Married Women, to which Israel is party, requires signatory states to enable every foreign woman married to a citizen of the state to obtain the citizenship held by her husband, at her request, through special and preferred citizenship procedures.

Furthermore, several fundamental principles of international law, incorporated in various conventions, relate to the obligation of states to protect the rights of the families of its citizens and residents:

  • the right of every person, without any limitation due to race, nationality, or religion, to marry and to found a family.
  • the family is defined as the natural basic unit of society, entitled to protection and assistance by the state. This protection is required especially at the time of the establishment of the family and as long as it is responsible for taking care of children.
  • the prohibition on arbitrary or illegal invasion of the privacy of a person, or the arbitrary or illegal intervention in his or her family or home.

International humanitarian law also requires states to respect the rights of the family in occupied territory. Article 46 of the Hague Regulations of 1907, which deal with the law and customs of land wars, stipulates that, “family honor and rights… must be respected.” These regulations, which apply to the military government in occupied territory, are considered part of customary international law and are binding, therefore, on the IDF in the Occupied Territories in all its activities dealing with the civilian population there.

Article 27 of the Fourth Geneva Convention relating to the Protection of Civilians in Time of War, of 1949, stipulates that residents of occupied territory “are entitled, in all circumstances, to respect for their persons, their honor, their family rights, their religious convictions and practices, and their manners and customs.” This provision is one of the pivotal humanitarian clauses of the Convention, and Israel recognizes its duty to apply such humanitarian provisions in the Occupied Territories.

Article 74 of the First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Convention requires the State Parties to “facilitate in every possible way the reunion of families dispersed as a result of armed conflicts….” Although Israel is not a signatory to this protocol, it indicates the standards established in international law on this subject.

Forcing families to live apart inevitably severely prejudices the right to maintain a proper family life. Since international law grants broad protection to family life, many jurists maintain that states must protect family rights, including the duty to protect family unity, by allowing immigration of family members into their territory.

By not allowing Palestinian residents of the Occupied Territories to live together with their non-resident spouses, Israel leaves them two choices: family separation or leaving the Occupied Territories with the whole family. In doing this, Israel violates its obligation under international law to respect and protect the marriage relationship of Occupied Territories residents, safeguard the family rights of the residents, to refrain from intervening in family life, and respect their right to live in their country.

Furthermore, allowing emigration as the sole possibility for a person to live with his or her family contravenes the Fourth Geneva Convention which states, “Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory… are prohibited, regardless of their motive.”

July 18
Palestinians’ Israeli residence revoked for “disloyalty”

Israel is acting to forcibly transfer four Palestinian politicians affiliated with Hamas from East Jerusalem. Israel revoked their permanent resident status in 2006, for the first time using grounds of disloyalty to the state.
May 30
Testimony: Stuck in Gaza, separated from family

On 21 April ’10, Israel deported Ahmad Sabah from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip after he completed a 9-year prison sentence. His wife and 9-year-old son did not get to see him. Sabah, who has no family in Gaza, awaits permission to return to his family.
Apr. 22
HaMoked – A Palestinian was deported to Gaza

Yesterday Israel forcibly transferred Ahmad Sayeed Sabah to Gaza with no judicial review. Sabah has resided in the West Bank for the past 15 years and his now separated from his wife and child. The move comes after official promises not to deport anyone f
Apr. 22
Military order defines tens of thousands “infiltrators”

The order may be used against Gazans living for years in the West Bank while Israel has refused to update their address, and against foreign citizens married to West Bank residents whom Israel has denied family unification.
Dec. 9
Israel prevents marriage of couple from Gaza and Bethlehem

Issa Misac, a Christian resident of Gaza, and his fiancee, a resident of Bethlehem, planned to marry in April ’09, yet Israel refuses to allow them to unite in either place.
Oct. 27
Testimony: Father of three deported to Gaza, separated from family

Alaa Abu Sultan relates how her husband, Muhammad, was detained two years ago at a checkpoint in Nablus and deported to Gaza, even though he had been living in Tulkarm since 1996. He has not seen his family since.
Dec. 17
Gaza: Israel prevents toddler in need of surgery from returning home to West Bank

A year ago, Sonia Rasaras, a resident of the West Bank, took her children to visit her ailing father in the Gaza Strip. Since then, Israel has prevented her from returning home. As a result, her disabled 18-month-old daughter cannot receive medical treatm
Sept. 10
Tearing families apart

Over the past year, Israel has escalated its policy of separating the populations of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The separation regime splits families, puts thousands at risk of expulsion to the Gaza Strip and turns Palestinians into “illegal aliens
Aug. 11
Israel approves 32,000 requests for family unification in the Territories

The approvals are an exception to Israel’s freeze on handling family unification requests. Although B’Tselem welcomes the action, it emphasizes that Israel is required at all times to respect the fundamental right to a family life and must immediately lif
May 29
Israel denies unregistered Palestinians ability to obtain ID cards

Israel refuses to provide a solution for residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip whose parents did not register them in the population registry at birth. Living without ID cards, these persons are often barred from realizing basic rights such as the rig
Dec. 31
2007: 131 Palestinians who did not participate in hostilities killed by Israel

B’Tselem today releases its year-end report. According to B’Tselem data, the number of Israelis and Palestinians killed in clashes in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip dropped. However, there has been deterioration in many other measures of the human right
Oct. 29
Israel to approve some 3,400 requests for family unification

Since Israel froze the handling of requests in 2000, more than 120,000 requests for family unification have piled up in PA offices.
Sept. 24
High Court to state: reconsider freeze on family unification in the Territories

The State of Israel will inform its High Court of Justice within sixty days if it will change its policy on family unification in the West Bank and Gaza . Currently, the authorities do not consider any requests made by Palestinians in these areas to live
Sept. 23
High Court hearing on Israel’s policy of family separation

Israel is forcing tens of thousands of foreign spouses of Palestinians to choose between leaving their spouses and children in the Territories and complete separation from family members in their countries of origin.
March 22
Knesset extends racist entry law for another year

On 22 March 2007 the Knesset extended for fifteen months the validity of the racist statute that prevents family unification of residents of East Jerusalem and citizens of Israel married to Palestinians who are residents of the West Bank or the Gaza Strip
Nov. 28
Interior Ministry denies status to children of East Jerusalem residents

The Nationality and Entry into Israel Law, as amended in 2005, discriminates against children of Palestinian residents of Israel and denies them basic rights. Hamoked and B’Tselem call on the Knesset to repeal the Law.
Aug. 15
Israel separates tens of thousands of families

B’Tselem and HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual publish a new report on Israel’s policy freezing family unification for Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. The policy separates children from their parents and prevents spouses from liv
July 3
Revocation of residency of Hamas members from Jerusalem is illegal

Following revocation of their residency status, the four officials will have their identity cards taken from them and will be forbidden entry to Jerusalem . The Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits the occupying power from forcibly transferring civilians fr
May 30
Illegal to revoke residency of members of Hamas from Jerusalem

The Interior Minister, Roni Bar-On, sent letters to a minister in the Palestinian Authority and to three legislators in the Palestinian Legislative Council, all members of Hamas, informing them that if they do not resign their positions within thirty days
May 14
High Court approves racist amendment to Nationality Law

The amendment severely infringes the right to family life, separates couples, and detaches parents from their children.
Apr. 24
Revocation of residency of Palestinian parliament members is illegal

East Jerusalem is an integral part of the Occupied Territories , so its Palestinian residents are protected by the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits the occupying power from forcibly transferring civilians from their homes.
Nov. 13
High Court questions the ban on family reunification

High Court President Barak demanded that the State provide more detailed information to prove its claim that family reunification facilitates terror.
Aug. 4
Knesset Enacts Racist Law

On 27 July 2005, the Knesset amended the Nationality Law. The amendment restricts the family unification of Israeli citizens and residents (including residents of East Jerusalem) and Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories . The law does not apply

Source & More reports at the website of B’Tselem


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