My good friend Ali studies for a Masters degree in English translation at the AlQuds University in Abu Dis, a suburb of Jerusalem. At the same time, he makes a living as a building contractor in Israel. He is a bright, ambitious and lovable guy. However, that’s not the whole story…
From an early age Ali had to take care of himself, since most of his childhood his father was in an Israeli prison, because of a security offence. Ali felt that for many years he missed direction and is distraught that as a consequence it’s only in his thirties that he was able to finish his B.A.. He is learning to believe in himself, worked day and night as chef in a well-known Israeli restaurant, and taught English (to Arab Palestinian students) and Arabic (to Jewish Israeli students). Recently, he started his own construction company and is now building a yeshiva. He is fluent in Hebrew, has many Jewish friends, and surprises with his knowledge of Judaism and the Torah.
But things are complicated
Ali married a woman from Al-Eizariya, a Palestinian city located just 2 miles (3.2 km.) from Jerusalem, on the slope of the Mount of Olives. They have two 4.5 year old twin daughters, who were born closeby, in the Makassed Islamic Charitable Hospital on the Mount of Olives. Though born in Israel, the girls are stateless.
Ali lived all his life in Israel and the logical thing would have been to register the twins as Israeli citizens. However, his attempts to do so became tormentous, because he himself was born in East Jerusalem, and as such did not obtain Israeli citizenship, but ‘only’ permanent residency. (He applied for Israeli citizenship, but in recent years “Israel almost entirely halts citizenship approvals for East Jerusalemites”.) The girls are already at the age for kindergarten and the decision by the Israeli Ministry of Interior on his request to register them is still pending.
One may ask why he did not register the girls with the Palestinian Authority. Although this is a possibility, they would then have lost any rights in Israel. In contrast, I am a permanent resident of Israel, living in East Jerusalem as well. There would be no problem registering my Jewish, Jerusalem or elsewhere born, children as Israeli citizens.
Let’s get back to the twins. One of the girls suffers from autism, does not speak and is in urgent need of a special school and treatment. The earlier she will receive assistance, the higher the chances for substantial improvement. As a result of her lack of citizenship, she remains at home. Several people and organizations intervened, but the girl does not yet receive proper care.
For similar reasons, it was impossible until lately to enroll the healthy twin sister in kindergarten. The intervention of these organization facilitated her enrollment, which is a beam of light. Nonetheless, only a private kindergarten that is much more expensive than a state-owned facility was willing to take her.
The family is stuck
These are not the only girls in the family. Ali has two daughters from a previous marriage, who live with them. Unlike the twins, these girls did receive Israeli residency and go to Israeli schools. Occasionally, Ali takes the girls to a playground in Jerusalem, but as a result of the statelessness of the twins he cannot legally take them along with their older sisters.
Unfortunately, also the Israeli residency request for Ali’s wife is pending for years, as a result of a law restricting family reunion. Since she has no residency, she can only visit her family in Israel once in three months, when she gets a temporary entrance permit. Not being able to stay together legally – despite the fact that they are married for several years – puts a high burden on the couple.
Little story: Ali and his family live in a Palestinian neighborhood, in a small apartment, with the four daughters sharing the same room. I much enjoy visiting them. I love the Palestinian cooking of his wife and I practice my Arabic with the daughters. Last time I returned from a visit, there must have been some rioting, since there was a bunch of Israeli soldiers near the house and I was halted in my car. The soldier asked me in broken Arabic how I was doing, and I replied in Hebrew that I’m fine. I guess it was beyond his thought pattern that in this surrounding he would meet a Jew or Israeli, so he continued in Arabic and let me pass.
Ali’s family is stuck on both sides of the wall, like many other families in which not all members have Israeli residency. You may ask why then wouldn’t they live all together in the areas on the West Bank administered by the Palestinian Authority. This is because a Palestinian from East Jerusalem can only keep his residency status as long as he lives in Jerusalem. If they would choose the option of living in a Palestinian administrated area, Ali and his daughters from the first marriage would lose their Israeli residency, and they would not be allowed to return to Israel. This would force Ali to give up his life in Israel, his income, friends and pastimes.
Thus, Israeli bureaucracy and the objection to provide Israeli residency to partners and children of Israeli Arab residents can make the life of many miserable.
Ali reminds me of the story of Ali Baba, who remains grateful and positive, notwithstanding all adversities. However, I know that despite his professional success, Ali is deeply sad about his family situation.