Mothers without services
By Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling (WLAC)
Limits on freedom of movement and family reunification, East Jerusalem
Since 1967, Palestinians living in the east of the City have been given Israeli permanent residency status, but not citizenship. A key distinction between the two categories is that the former can be revoked. Problems arise when a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem wishes to marry a resident on the West Bank, even though both areas are considered as one occupied territory under international law. Under an Israeli law passed in 2003, restrictions are placed on the rights of Israeli citizens and permanent residents of Palestinian origin who wish to marry somebody from the West Bank. Under the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law, in order for a spouse from the West Bank to legally live in East Jerusalem, women over 25 and men over 35 must apply for temporary military permits, giving rise to a life of constant uncertainty and insecurity. Persons below these age categories must apply to a special committee based on “exceptional humanitarian considerations.” Since 2008, this special committee has only approved applications in 5.5 percent of cases.
If Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem leave to live with their spouses in the West Bank or elsewhere, they run the risk of having their residency rights permanently revoked – something that has happened to around 14,000 Palestinians since 1967.
The justification given for these restrictions on family reunification is security. However, the evidence indicates that out of 130,000 Palestinians entering Israel or East Jerusalem for the purposes of family reunification between 1994 and 2008, only 0.005 percent have been convicted of a security offence. In January 2012, the Israeli Supreme Court narrowly rejected (6-5) a petition seeking to challenge the constitutionality of the law. The five dissenting judges acknowledged the law’s discriminatory nature, which permits Jewish citizens and permanent residents to marry anyone of Jewish origin, including those from “enemy states”, who automatically become citizens under the Law of Return.
• Lack of services – As permanent residents, Palestinians living in East Jerusalem are required to pay Israeli taxes and are entitled to all rights and services that are provided to Israeli citizens, except the right to vote in general elections. However, reports indicate that far fewer resources are allocated to the Palestinian residents in the east of the City resulting in a shortage in health and educational services, welfare services, water and sewage systems and roads.
Taking education as an example, according to the UN, 1,000 additional classrooms are required for Palestinian children in East Jerusalem and many existing facilities are substandard or unsuitable. Consequently, many parents resort to fee-paying alternatives even though children in East Jerusalem are entitled to free education under Israeli law. According to a recent report published by the US State Department, although Palestinians make up 35 percent of the population of Jerusalem, they only receive 10-15 percent of municipal spending.
• The Christian community – The cumulative effect of these measures is also adversely affecting the dwindling Christian community living in Jerusalem and the West Bank. According to a 2008 survey, there are 50,000 Palestinian Christians living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. According to the US State Department, the Palestinian Christian community is primarily concentrated in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Bethlehem, but smaller communities live elsewhere. Citing local Christian leaders, the State Department reports that Palestinian Christian emigration has accelerated since 2001, in part due to the limited ability of Christian communities in the Jerusalem area to expand due to Israeli building restrictions and family reunification limitations imposed by the Israeli government.
Case Study 7
Name: Rana A.
Location: Issawiyeh, East Jersualem
Date of incident: Continuing
Nature of incident: Residency rights / House demolition
A mother of six from occupied East Jerusalem describes how her husband was forced to demolish part of their home because it was built without an Israeli building permit, and how she lives in fear of being separated from her family.
Thirty-two year old Rana is from the West Bank city of Nablus. She got married in 1994 and moved to the old city of Jerusalem to live with her husband. “We didn’t have much money and lived with my mother-inlaw,” recalls Rana. After the birth of her first child in 1995, Rana and her husband decided to build a small room on the roof of the family house. “I so badly wanted to have my own space,” says Rana. “We knew it was almost impossible to get a building permit for the room because the Israeli authorities do not grant many permits to Palestinians in East Jerusalem,
but we had no choice.”
“Three years after we finished the room we were issued a huge fine (US $5,000) which we had to pay in installments. There was no mention about demolishing the house,” says Rana. In about 2007, 12 years after they started building the room, Rana and her husband received a notice that they had to attend a court hearing. They appointed a lawyer. “The only thing he was able to do was to buy us time,” says Rana. In about 2009, Rana and her husband received a demolition order for the room. “I was shocked beyond belief,” recalls Rana. “They kept quiet for nearly 14 years and said nothing about demolishing the room. They made us pay a fine of nearly $5,000 in installments and when we paid the whole amount they brought the demolition issue up. “To make matters worse, the authorities told us they will charge us more than US $10,000 to demolish the room. They also said that if the room wasn’t demolished in four days they would place my husband under house arrest. This would mean he would lose his job.”
“In June 2010, we realised that we had no choice but to demolish the room ourselves, in the middle of my children’s final school exams,” recalls Rana. “My husband demolished the room with his own hands at his own expense, using a sledgehammer to save us $10,000. My husband and I had to borrow money from my mother and my brother-in-law to pay the cost of carrying the rubble away. My mother felt so sorry for us, especially for the children, that she told us she didn’t want the money back. Me and my husband, and our six children moved back in with my mother-in-law. It was terrible for us and for her,” says Rana.
Later that year, Rana, her husband and children, moved to a house in the Issawiyeh neighbourhood of East Jerusalem. “Our house in the Old City was five minutes away from my children’s school, now it takes at least an hour to get to school which costs us a lot of money. I feel disconnected from the world. I used to attend lectures and take part in all sorts of activities in the Old City but not anymore, but this is the only house we could afford to rent,” says Rana, whose friends are also all in the Old City.
After 17 years of marriage, the Israeli authorities have still not given Rana a Jerusalem identity card. This makes it very difficult for her to see her family in Nablus. Rana first applied for a Jerusalem identity card under the family unification programme in 1997, but it was rejected by the Israeli authorities without reason. Shortly after her application for family unification was rejected, the Israeli Ministry of Interior informed her that she had to leave East Jerusalem immediately, even though it is considered to be occupied Palestinian territory under international law. “The idea of not being able to live with my family, with my children and husband, terrified me. I worried day and night that one day I might be forced to separate from my children,” says Rana. Rana hired a lawyer who managed to get her a temporary residency permit valid for one year. “Even with this temporary residency permit I don’t feel safe and secure because when it expires I have to go through the whole tedious application process again. They ask me for water and electricity bills and evidence that I have paid the Israeli municipal tax.
They ask me about my family and my friends, one by one as if they are looking for the slightest excuse to deny me the permit. There is no doubt in my mind that they don’t want us to live a normal life in Jerusalem. They make life impossible for us,” says Rana. In July 2012, I went to renew my temporary permit, but I have not yet heard back from them. This is not the first time this has happened and it is not good news for me, it is making me anxious.”Whenever Rana’s temporary permit is not renewed in time, she has to stay home until she gets a new permit. This means she cannot visit friends or go on family trips. Three years ago there was a delay in issuing her permit that meant she could not go to the hospital with her six-year-old son, who needed urgent surgery, for fear she would be ordered out of Jerusalem. “I feel like an outcast. I even felt like I was committing a crime when I attended my brother’s wedding,” says Rana. She also does not have any health insurance, as the insurance companies in Jerusalem do not insure non-residents. “It will cost me a lot of money next month when I go to the hospital for minor surgery. What should be routine turns into a nightmare,” she says.
“During the holidays I feel miserable because all my neighbours and my friends invite their parents and relatives over for meals except me. My parents, who live in Nablus, less than two hours away, are not allowed to enter Jerusalem. I’m not allowed to invite my mother over for a meal, it is a terrible feeling. Life for a woman is hard enough in the best of circumstances, for me, a Palestinian woman in Jerusalem; life is a never-ending struggle.”
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This report seeks to illustrate, through the eyes of women, how for the past 45 years, Israeli military and civilian authorities have sought to establish permanent control over much of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. Although usually described as a military occupation, this legal categorisation fails to accurately define what is actually occurring on the ground, day by day, house by house, family by family – a de facto annexation. This relentless process has been well described by one Israeli organisation as follows:
“The goal is to confine 4 million residents of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza to small enclaves, thus effectively foreclosing any viable Palestinian state and ensuring Israeli control, and to allow for the expropriation of land, the ethnic displacement of Palestinians, and the Judaization of the occupied West Bank. In the cantonization plan pursued by the current and previous Israeli governments, Israel would annex the settlement blocs containing 80% of the settlers in addition to ‘greater Jerusalem’ and the Jordan Valley. It would Judaize approximately 85% of the country, leaving the Palestinians with disconnected enclaves on only 15% of the land. Israel would control all the borders, all the sea and airports, Palestinian airspace, the electro-magnetic sphere (communications), and West Bank seam zones. In this version of the two-state solution, the Palestinians would be deprived of meaningful self-determination. The Palestinian ‘state’ would have only limited sovereignty and no viable economy. While it would be expected to absorb all the refugees who wish to return, it would have no economic potential for development and could offer no prospect for its future generations.”
The process described above has been playing out on a daily basis across the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip for over four decades. The testimonies of women presented in this report bear witness and provide a glimpse into these practices. For example, women speak of the sense of fear and intimidation experienced by repeated night-time military raids in which soldiers come into their houses, and even into their bedrooms, because they dare to protest against the creeping annexation. The report looks at a similar form of intimidation perpetrated this time by armed settlers, as soldiers stand idly by. In other parts of the report, women describe how Palestinian society living in the West Bank (Area C), East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip is coming under increasing pressure in the form of severe building restrictions and property demolition, an economic blockade and freedom of movement limitations which affect everything from where you can live, where you can study, and even who you can marry. Through the use of these discriminatory and restrictive planning laws that violate international law, Palestinians are being squeezed and corralled into an ever shrinking space.
Less publicised are the devastating effects these policies have on the physical and psychological wellbeing of women, and in particular, on mothers. Through research conducted in early 2012, the following psychological symptoms typical of those living with continuous and sequential trauma were identified: insomnia, tension headaches, hypertension, heart disease, gastro-intestinal ailments, hypervigilance, irritability, agitation, and panic attacks. Further, mothers anticipating nighttime incursions, the arrest of a child, the imminent fear of being separated from their children, the demolition or seizure of their homes, settler violence, and the denial of residency rights reported exceedingly high levels of anticipatory terror and dread that adversely impacted their capacity to parent effectively. Mothers who experienced repeated, unpredictable violence over a greater length of time and with more intensity, also exhibited chronic depression, dissociative symptoms, psychic numbing, and other personality impairments affecting cognition, emotional regulation, intimacy, interpersonal relatedness, and overall identity.
Perhaps the only remaining question to be asked is: does anybody believe that these policies are likely to lead to a just and lasting peace?