Our country is famed for its bureaucracy. Petty clerks tow the line given to them by higher-up personnel. Often, errors are made and complainant’s rights are overlooked. Sometimes a person’s complaint is wait-listed, hidden behind a pile of dossiers, and “discovered” several years later.
I was not about to let that happen to me.
My first Israeli passports issued for travel overseas were called “teudat ma’avar” or laissez-passer. They allowed me to travel freely but were not equal to a national passport.
I complained bitterly to the clerk at the misrad ha-pnim (Interior Ministry), showed my teudat zehut (national ID card) indicating that I was fully an Israeli citizen, but it fell on deaf ears. No answer was given to me. And no national passport was issued.
My attorney in Tel-Aviv intervened on my behalf and was told that the reason for denial of a national passport was because I had spent too much time outside of Israel. When does a government begin counting days or months of a citizen’s travel or the reasons for it?
The “teudat ma’avar” was accepted in a few European countries as a valid passport but on one occasion, upon arrival at Budapest’s airport, the immigration officer refused to accept it. She asked if I had any other passport (I did, but denied it and refused to show it). I replied that the Israeli document was the only one I had. If it was unacceptable, they could escort me to a plane returning to Tel-Aviv.
She consulted with a superior officer who examined my document and agreed that it was valid for entry into Hungary. But it was a situation which I never again wanted to experience. I decided to take firm action to resolve the bureaucratic problem.
Upon legal advice, I submitted a protest to the Ombudsman of the Ministry of Interior at its headquarters in Jerusalem. I provided old documents which indicated that I had arrived in Israel in 1951 and another with a visa stamped in 1957 indicating that I was a permanent resident of Israel.
With those documents submitted, I received a call to appear at the main office of the Ministry in Jerusalem, quite nervous and not knowing what to expect.
When I was called into the office of the Ombudsman, seated with the Director-General of the Interior Ministry, I was pleasantly invited to sit down. When I saw their smiling faces, I knew that my request had been approved.
“When you are right, you are right”, they told me. “You should have been issued a national passport upon your original request. Unfortunately, the clerk in the Rishon Lezion branch of the misrad ha-pnim failed to check the computer detailing your residence since 1957. We apologize for that error and hope it did not cause you any discomfort” (which it definitely did).
A few days later I had another call from our local branch of the ministry. “Your passport is waiting for you, sir”. Nicest words I could hear.
I treasure my Israeli passport. After all, I had waited two thousand years to receive it. With it, I travel with pride when I present it to immigration officials in any country to which I travel. If asked if I have any other passport, I decline. “I am an Israeli citizen and this is my official document”.
Right is right. And sometimes it’s good to wrestle with the bureaucratic clerks. Winning is a victory.