The Electronic Intifada Silwan 22 June 2011
Smiling and wide-eyed, seven-month-old Nouralden Issa Abbassi is happily getting passed between the arms of his mother, grandmother and uncle in the living room of the Abbassi family home in the Silwan neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem.
But while the family appears carefree, the reality is that Israel’s decision to deny Nouralden a Jerusalem identification card — and by extension block his right to access public health services and education — has left everyone anxious and concerned for the future.
“They refused to give Nouralden an ID [card] because they don’t want him to stay here,” Nouralden’s mother, Riham Abbassi, told The Electronic Intifada. “They don’t want us to live here because of what Issa did.”
Issa Abbassi, Nouralden’s father, was sentenced to ten years in prison in May 2010 for allegedly shooting at Israeli settler security guards near the illegal settlement of Beit Yonathan, which sits in the heart of the Silwan neighborhood of Baten al-Hawa.
Issa was already behind bars at Ashqelon prison — one of four prison facilities run by the Israeli General Security Service (GSS), also known as the Shin Bet or Shabak — when Nouralden was born in East Jerusalem late last year.
As a result, the Israeli Ministry of Interior rejected the family’s application for the baby’s Jerusalem ID card, arguing that Issa himself would have to apply when he is released from prison since he is the only parent with Jerusalem residency rights. Riham — originally from the East Jerusalem village of Kafr Aqab, part of which sits on the West Bank side of Israel’s wall — has a West Bank-only ID card.
“The Bible and the Koran both say that the child should not be punished for what the father did. This is collective punishment. Ten years [in prison] is punishment enough. The family should not be punished too,” Nouralden’s grandfather, Daoud Abbassi, told The Electronic Intifada.
“Their policy is to deport Jerusalemites”
Daoud explained that while Nouralden received a birth certificate from the hospital after he was born, it took four months for the family to find out that he wouldn’t be receiving an ID card. The family was then given 45 days to appeal the interior ministry’s decision. As of mid-June, when The Electronic Intifada spoke with the family, they were in the process of setting up their appeal.
Nouralden’s older brother, three-year-old Kasim, received a Jerusalem ID card when he was born, before his father was convicted. Daoud said that this not only indicates that the decision to deny Nouralden his Jerusalem residency rights is arbitrary, but highlights the Israeli government’s overall aim: to punish and split up the Abbassi family, and Palestinian families in Jerusalem more generally.
“Their policy is to deport Jerusalemites from their homes, from where they live. Do you understand? It’s a plan that already exists, whether in the papers of the Ministry of the Interior, the municipality. We know it’s there. We are sure of it one million percent,” Daoud said.
According to Israeli law, a Palestinian child does not automatically receive an identity card if he or she only has one parent who is a resident of East Jerusalem. Instead, the parents will receive a “notification of live birth” for their child, and they must then submit a separate request for registration.
In order to be eligible to register their child, Palestinians must prove that their “center of life” is in Jerusalem. This policy, introduced by the Israeli Ministry of Interior in 1995, stipulates that Palestinians must present documents proving that their day-to-day life takes place in the city. Municipal tax, electricity or phone bills and school or work certificates are among the accepted documents.
Thousands of unrecognized children
It is estimated that approximately 10,000 Palestinian children currently live in Jerusalem without identification. Unrecognized by the State of Israel, these children are denied basic rights such as access to education and health care, among other things.
“If a child does not have an identification number, all the child’s benefits will not be applicable: he will not be receiving health insurance, he will not be allowed to travel or live inside Jerusalem. Most importantly, at five or six years old, the municipality will not recognize [the child] as a resident in the city and he will not be allowed to be educated inside the city,” explained Rami Saleh, a branch director of the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center.
“We are talking about a child that is born and does not have any identification. Within the rights of the child, it’s mentioned that any newborn child should have a legal name and ID number and should not be left [with nothing] until he grows up and has to search for it,” Saleh added.
Israel began occupying East Jerusalem — along with rest of the West Bank, as well as the Gaza Strip — after the 1967 War. As East Jerusalem is considered occupied territory, Israel has a responsibility to protect the rights of the residents under its control there, and is bound to international humanitarian law.
The Fourth Geneva Convention states that “the occupying power shall take all necessary steps to facilitate the identification of children and the registration of their parentage. It may not, in any case, change their personal status.”
Article 24 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that every child “shall be registered immediately after birth” and “has the right to acquire a nationality.”
Furthermore, Article 7 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that “the child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents.”
Article 2 of the UN Convention also says that states must “take all appropriate measures to ensure that the child is protected against all forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of the child’s parents, legal guardians, or family members.”
In other words, in the case of seven-month-old Nouralden Abbassi, he should not be punished by not receiving a Jerusalem identification card because of actions taken by his father, Issa.
“The child has a right to live in Jerusalem,” Saleh said, “and it is the right of the child to have an Israeli number because of his father, regardless of where he is.”
Ziad al-Hammouri, Director of the Jerusalem Center for Social and Economic Rights, agreed.
“The child has to be registered, even if the father is in jail. Today, there is a collective punishment for the families and this is one of the collective punishments. The whole family [is suffering] from this punishment,” al-Hammouri said.
“When we are talking about 10,000 children [without ID cards in Jerusalem], it’s a huge number,” he added. “Look at how the families are suffering. Every family is suffering if they have one child or two [children] that [are] not registered. Then they are facing problems in schools. They are worried. Their life will not be settled.”
Despite pressure, family refuses to leave Jerusalem
For the Abbassi family, while paying for medical expenses and private schooling will be a challenge, the most difficult part of not having an ID card for Nouralden is the fact that the young child will be unable to visit his father in prison.
“I’m very afraid that he won’t receive medical attention. I didn’t know that I would have to pay for medical insurance, school, everything,” Nouralden’s mother, Riham Abbassi, told The Electronic Intifada.
“But I want my son to visit his father. I want to go with my son to visit his father. I’m going to stay here until he gets his ID because he was born here and should get an ID card,” she said.
Daoud Abbassi, Nouralden’s grandfather, added that despite all the pressure exerted by the Israeli authorities, the family would never leave its home in Jerusalem.
“They think one morning we will wake up and decide to leave? They think all this pressure they employ on us, we will one day tell them, ‘peace be on you!’ and go away, leave our houses and lands and go live in Ramallah? No! Never!” he said.
“Even if they kick us out, we will find a way to return. If they made us leave out of this door, my children and I will return to the house through the other door. If not us, my children’s children will return.”
Jillian Kestler-D’Amours is a reporter and documentary filmmaker based in Jerusalem. More of her work can be found at http://jkdamours.com.
- revocation of residency rights
- Issa Abbassi
- Beit Yonathan
- Baten al-Hawa
- Ashqelon prison
- Shin Bet
- Israeli Ministry of Interior
- Kafr Aqab
- Israel's wall in the West Bank
- international humanitarian law
- Fourth Geneva Convention
- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
- UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
- Ziad al-Hammouri
- Jerusalem Center for Social and Economic Rights