Israel refuses to lift ban on family unification

Through its restrictive permit and checkpoint system, Israel has split families from one another. (Mamoun Wazwaz/MaanImages)

Jerusalem-born Firas al-Maraghi has been holding a hunger strike outside the Israeli embassy in Berlin, Germany, since 26 July, protesting a decision by the Israeli government to prevent his newborn daughter from being registered as a Jerusalem resident. Al-Maraghi, who is married to a German citizen, temporarily moved to Berlin to accompany his wife as she completed her doctoral thesis, and was informed by the Israeli embassy that the couple’s daughter, Zeinab, would not be granted the identification and residency papers needed to live in their home when the family moved back to Jerusalem.

During his temporary stay in Germany, al-Maraghi has frequently traveled back to his home in Silwan, occupied East Jerusalem, while refusing to apply for any travel visas or passports that may strip him of his Israeli-issued laissez-passer. The laissez-passer is a special travel document specifically for Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem in the stead of Israeli passports, since those Palestinians are not recognized as citizens of the State of Israel but rather “legal residents” of the area.

Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq stated in a 12 August press release that the decision to refuse Jerusalem residency rights to the couple’s newborn daughter “breaches Firas’ right to live in Jerusalem with his family” (“Palestinian on Hunger Strike in Berlin for Family Rights in East Jerusalem).

“Firas has been on hunger strike … drinking only water, refusing to end his strike until the Israeli embassy in Berlin revokes its denial of registering Firas’s daughter as Jerusalem resident,” the statement added.

Family unification frozen

Al-Haq remarked that this policy of disallowing family unification and residency status in occupied East Jerusalem is not new, nor is al-Maraghi’s case an isolated incident. “Since 1967, Israel has engaged in a deliberate policy of reducing the number of Palestinians residing in East Jerusalem while facilitating the increase of the Jewish population in the city,” al-Haq said. “To this end, Israel has used various legal and administrative means aimed at preventing the unification of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem with non-resident spouses and children.”

Al-Haq stated that in the past, Palestinians of occupied East Jerusalem were able to apply for family unification documents for their spouses and children through the Israeli interior ministry, in order to legally live in East Jerusalem and Israel with their families. They point out that this requirement does not apply to Jewish citizens and immigrants, who are free to marry Jewish Israelis and can easily obtain all residency, citizenship and travel documents required by the state.

However, in the past decade, Palestinians like al-Maraghi and his family have been subjected to administrative procedures aimed at thinning out the Palestinian population of East Jerusalem. “In 2000, Israel de facto suspended all family unification procedures, impacting tens of thousands of Palestinians and their foreign spouses,” Al-Haq stated. “Moreover, since 2003, the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) has regularly extended the discriminatory ‘Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law of 2003’ (most recently on 21 July 2010). This law formally denies family unification of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem with their spouses and children from other parts of the Occupied Palestinian Territories or abroad. Consequently, these families are prevented from living together in Israel and occupied East Jerusalem, resulting in the separation and forced relocation of such families.”

On 29 July, the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) officially urged Israel to lift its draconian ban on family unification laws, as the group found “a large number” of violations of Israel’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. UNHRC stated that it “reiterates its concern with the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law, which adversely affects the lives of many families, remains in force and has been declared constitutional by the Israeli Supreme Court. The law should be revoked and Israel should review its policy with a view to facilitating family reunifications of all citizens and permanent residents without discrimination” (“UN Human Rights Committee Urges Israel to Revoke Ban …,” Adalah news update, 4 August 2010).

Israel has neither lifted its ban, nor responded to the United Nations’ appeal.

Ma’an News Agency reported that a letter “was also delivered to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, calling for rapid intervention by Israeli authorities and for the government’s respect of the human rights declaration” (“Jerusalem man on hunger strike over residency rights,” 15 August 2010).

Meanwhile, solidarity activists in Germany have requested portable heaters to help keep al-Maraghi warm during regular, seasonal thunderstorms, as his hunger strike enters its fourth week.

Widow deported

At the same time, in Washington DC, US citizen Bettye Brown faces an ongoing battle with the Israeli government as she fights for her rights after the death of her husband, Muhammed Nijjab, a Palestinian from the occupied West Bank.

Brown, 71, told The Electronic Intifada that after the death of her husband of nearly fifty years, Israel has denied her entry from the West Bank. Brown inherited land in the village of Jibya that is threatened with further land confiscation to a nearby settlement colony.

“My husband had gone back to Jibya to retire about ten years ago,” Brown said. “I stayed in the Washington DC area, but when he got sick in 2005, I went to the West Bank to take care of him.” Nijjab was a research chemist, and developed silicosis from years of inhaling toxic substances. Brown said that she stayed in the village until his death in 2006, and inherited about 85 acres of the family’s land.

“It would have been a lot more, if the Israelis hadn’t confiscated a third of the original parcel of land for the settlement back in the 1980s,” Brown added.

Earlier this year, Brown said she intended to visit her land in Jibya and was subsequently deported from the country after enduring eight hours of humiliation and interrogation by Israeli soldiers in a detention cell at the Jordanian border.

“They didn’t give me any food or water, and they took me back while two women and a man interrogated me and screamed at me,” Brown said. “At some point, they fingerprinted me, took a mug shot and stamped ‘denial of entry’ on my passport. I went back to Amman.” She’s been back in Washington, DC since May.

Brown told The Electronic Intifada that she believes that Israel’s intentions to confiscate more land in her husband’s village contributes to their decision to deny her entry. “It’s a very small village, on the top of a small mountain. It’s beautiful. What they’ve done is redraw the map, designating an area to be under Israeli control, which I think is their plan to grab more land. [My husband’s] family has had the land surveyed and registered, in an attempt to protect it.”

In the meantime, Brown told The Electronic Intifada she has consulted an attorney and is appealing to her congressional representatives, as well as working with the West Bank-based advocacy group, Right To Enter (, which focuses on the protection of the rights of foreign passport holders and residents who have been denied entry by the Israeli authorities. She is also continuing her small business of selling handmade Palestinian and regional crafts to local community organizations and churches for fundraising events.

“My husband never got over not living in Jibya,” Brown remarked. “All his life, he talked about Jibya and how much he loved it. The people there are lovely. I’m the only non-Muslim in the village, but it doesn’t matter.”

In a related story, Ma’an reports that a Palestinian father from the West Bank was stopped at the Qalandiya checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem and prevented from accompanying his wife to a Jerusalem hospital when she developed serious complications during labor. Safi Abdul Hamid al-Tamimi told Ma’an that his wife gave birth earlier this month but he has not seen her nor his newborn baby yet, as he didn’t have a permit to enter Jerusalem when his wife was transfered. Israel has rejected his application to obtain a permit “without explanation” in the days following the birth (“Father says denied permit to visit wife and newborns,” 16 August 2010).