Tom Segev: I am Jerusalemite
If the justices give attorney Lustigman's arguments a thorough reading, they'll find some human language in it.
By Tom Segev
Somewhere in the clauses of the new law for the prevention of family unification lies the intention to expel thousands of children from East Jerusalem when they reach the age of 18. Amal Abu Jawila is already 16 - she has just two years to go.
It's a very complicated story, ostensibly all a legal and administrative tangle, but its human and political essence is very simple: Almost 40 years after Israel conquered and annexed East Jerusalem, it is showing clear signs of remorse. The national ethos still holds sacred the "eternal unity of Jerusalem," but, unfortunately, Jerusalem is full of Arabs. To reduce their number, the government has proposed a law to prevent family unification, a law that threatens to lead to the expulsion of thousands of Palestinian children from Jerusalem, a bureaucratic transfer in the spirit of Avigdor Lieberman. Four of Mirfat Abu Jawila's seven children would be due for expulsion; the Supreme Court will hold a hearing on the law next week.
The main purpose of the law, which has been in the works for the past three years, is to limit seriously the ability of Palestinian citizens to obtain Israeli citizenship by means of marriage with Israeli citizens. Much has already been said and written about this law. Now it appears that also hidden somewhere in its sections and subsections is the possibility of preventing thousands of children who are residents of Jerusalem from staying in Israel after they turn 18; obviously, they will have to move to Palestinian Authority territory. Some were born in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is where their lives are centered. It's where their parents live.
There are people, Jerusalem residents, who lived for some time with their relatives in the West Bank, usually immediately after marriage - a woman with her husband's parents or vice versa, and when the children were born, they registered them there, assuming that Israel would also recognize them as residents of Jerusalem. Up until three years ago, the state did agree to register children who had only one parent who was a Jerusalem resident, even if the children were born in the territories.
However, the East Jerusalem branch of the Interior Ministry did not provide genuine service: People were forced to wait in line for entire days, in the sun and rain, in unbearably crowded conditions, and those who finally did get to see a clerk there were usually sent away to bring more documents and then had to go back to the end of the line. Many people therefore preferred to register their children in the territories.
The registration of children who were born in the territories, or who had one parent who was not a resident of Jerusalem, involved a process of "family unification." In the spirit of the new law, this process ceased. Beginning at the end of last year, children up to the age of 14 could reside in Jerusalem with their parents on the basis of temporary permits that entitle them to a National Insurance Institute allowance and national health insurance. Children ages 14-18 can reside in Israel on the basis of military permits, without social privileges. And this is not an automatic process: It is all subject to the approval of the Shin Bet.
All it takes is a claim that someone related to the family - a brother, brother-in-law, uncle or so on - may harm national security in the future in order to deprive the child of the right to reside in Jerusalem. An entire city, including every child, is thus suspected of terror.
Naturally, the ones harmed are not entitled to receive detailed information about the substance of the claims that the Shin Bet raises against them, and thus they have no basis on which to stake an appeal.
Without transparency and oversight, one is left with any recourse but to have faith that not one of the Shin Bet people is exploiting his unlimited authority for the purposes of blackmail, bribery and so on. In any event, there is no legal possibility of extending the residency permits and so at age 18, the children must bid their parents good-bye and leave.
Soon it will be Amal Abu Jawila's turn; she is already 16.
Her mother, Mirfat Abu Jawila, a Jerusalem native and city resident who works as a caregiver for the elderly, married a resident of Ramallah in 1988, who is currently a maintenance worker at a maternity hospital. Four of their children were born in Ramallah - three sons and one daughter, Amal; another three girls were born in Jerusalem. Officially, then, Amal is an illegal resident.
When she tried to accompany her mother on a shopping trip outside the neighborhood or on a family visit, she was detained for a long time by soldiers. They told her to return home and also threatened to expel her. Her brother Kamal, 15, could not join his classmates on their annual field trip because he does not have a residency permit. In three more years, he, too, will have to leave his parents' home and move to the territories. Meanwhile, these four children do not entitle their parents to an NII allowance, nor do they have national health insurance. This is one of the law's objectives.
The possibility of expelling thousands of children from Jerusalem received the Knesset's seal of approval; it was all justified by the need to protect against terror. The state's response to the petitions that will come up for a hearing next week in the Supreme Court is also based exclusively on security needs. But attorney Adi Lustigman, who is representing Moked: The Center for the Defense of the Individual, obtained a computer presentation that people from the Population Administration showed the government ministers before the latter decided on the law. The need to defend the state from terror was just one rationale. The Population Administration representatives also spoke about money and about the danger that the Arabs will multiply. "How much are the child allowances alone (emphasis in the original) costing us?" reads one page of the presentation that the ministers saw. And another says: "Six children were registered as citizens by virtue of birth to a mother to whom citizenship was restored but who has continued to reside in the territories after the acquisition of this status. The result is she has about NIS 92,000 from the NII and an Israeli citizen son who blows himself up in the Matza restaurant in Haifa."
The presentation warned the ministers of "an immediate and concrete danger" - not only terror, but the danger that Israel might lose its character as a "Jewish and democratic" state.
Several pages of the presentation bore jokey headings clearly meant to amuse the ministers, such as "A Friend Brings a Friend." The explanation: "A husband acquires residency status due to marriage; he marries a second woman from the territories (he's a polygamist), divorces the Israeli woman and requests family unification for the foreign woman and her children."
The High Court hearing is, of course, full of legal-bureaucratic language. Attorney Yocheved Gensin, of the State Prosecutor's Office, wrote, among other things: "The petitioners have not laid sufficient evidentiary groundwork for their claim regarding consequential discrimination. However, even if a basis were laid for consequential discrimination, and we do not believe it has been, the existence of an objective justification for differentiality in treatment, undoes the argument of harm ... In the case at hand, there exists an objective justification based on the professional assessment of security officials, as described above."
If the justices give attorney Lustigman's arguments a thorough reading, they'll find some human language in it: "The injustice and disgrace with which this law is tainted cry out to the heavens. This terrible action by the state is neither Jewish nor democratic."
-Haaretz (February 10, 2006)
Created By: Dr Raeder Anderson