Weddings, funerals, the birth of a relative, etc. are all events when family and friends from near and far come together. Unfortunately, for many Palestinians that’s not an option. Why? Because they don’t have a Palestinian ID card. Without one, Palestinians can’t travel in and out of the West Bank and Gaza. The only way to get one is through a family reunification process that must be approved by Israel. It can be a very long, tedious and discriminating process. It’s an aspect of the Israeli occupation that rarely gets much attention.
Palestinians without a Palestinian ID card can be basically put into two categories; those that live in the Palestinian Territories and those who do not. For those Palestinians without ID’s who live in the West Bank and Gaza, their situation can be summed up like this: they came to Palestine via Israel with their US passport or passport of their country of residence, they decided they wanted to stay beyond their 3 month visa, tried to renew their visa and were denied but chose to stay anyway. As a consequence, they’re classified by the Israeli government as illegal residents, even if they were born and raised there. Therefore, if they decide to leave the Territories for any reason, they wouldn’t be allowed back. For those who live outside of the Palestinian Territories and don’t have ID’s, most likely they have spouses and immediate family members that have Palestinian ID’s that either live in the Territories, and therefore cannot spend time with them beyond the 3 month visa allowance, or they would like to go back and live “legally” in Palestine. I happen to have relatives who belong to both categories.
Just yesterday, Israel approved over 3,400 family reunification applications and, fortunately, a couple of my relatives happened to be on the list. For some people, the process has taken years. However, just because the applications were approved doesn’t mean that the applicants automatically get their ID’s. Once the applications are approved, the applicants must go to the Palestinian Department of Civil Affairs to fill out more paperwork and then wait weeks, if not months, for their ID’s to be issued to them. For those Palestinians who live outside of the West Bank and Gaza and had their applications approved, they must come back to the Territories and cannot leave until their ID’s are issued to them. That means these people will be away from their family and jobs for an unknown period of time. Of course there are problems that arise from those circumstances. If you’re the breadwinner in the family, then you need to make sure that the family you leave behind is taken care of financially. Not only that, but you might not have a job when you do eventually get back. Because honestly, what boss would keep your job for you if they didn’t know when you were coming back?
According to Maan News Agency, there have been over 20,000 family reunification applications approved by Israel over the past year. I’m sure President Abbas would love to take the credit for that. But the fact is, the Palestinian Authority simply provides the names of the Palestinian applicants to the Israeli authorities. It’s the Israeli authorities that decide who gets approved, how many get approved at any given time and when the names of the approved applicants are released. The PA is just the messenger between the Palestinians and the Israelis in the process. That also pretty much sums up the role of the PA in general. So while Husein Ash-Sheikh, the head of Palestinian Civil Affairs, would like us to believe that the approvals came about out of the “hard work on this initiative upon the instructions of President Abbas”, in reality it wasn’t even his decision to make. However, Husein Ash-Sheikh is right when he says family reunification “is of national importance, since citizenship is a right for each Palestinian.” Which is why this should be a Palestinian process through and through and Israel should have no say in the matter. The “authority” in the PA is a joke.
It’s such a shame that in addition to all of the isolation, deprivation and humiliation that the illegal Israeli occupation places upon Palestinians that they can’t even share time and be with their immediate family and loved ones. It’s just wrong. And Israelis wonder why Palestinians are pissed? The next time you get together with your loved ones, please remember the thousands of Palestinians who can’t be with theirs as a result of the Israeli occupation. Let’s hope they all get that opportunity and soon.