29 May '08: Israel refuses to issue ID cards to unregistered Palestinians

29 May 2008

“I long for the day I'll finally get an ID card. I want to pass through each and every checkpoint in the West Bank, just to show everyone I have an ID card. Sometimes I feel that death will be the only solution to my problem. In the afterlife I'm sure no one gets asked about his ID card.”

This depressing quote, from the testimony of Muhannad al-Khafash, a resident of Mardah, Nablus District, offers an insight into the lives of many other residents of the West Bank who are trapped in a similar predicament. These are persons whose parents did not register them at birth in the Palestinian population registry, usually due to ignorance or neglect of bureaucratic affairs, and consequently have no legal status. The major result of their lack of status is their inability to obtain an ID card, which is essential to accomplishing the most mundane acts in many walks of life.

Israel's policy

Since the occupation began in 1967, Israel has exercised almost total control over the Palestinian population registry and has sole power to determine who is a Palestinian resident. In this capacity, Israel could enable children whose parents did not register them - a tendency that is more prominent as regards daughters - to obtain ID cards by applying the simple and relatively rapid solution is known as “late registration.” However, Israel refuses to authorize this procedure and insists, instead, on channeling these cases to the long and exhausting family unification procedure, which was created to enable a non-resident of the West Bank or Gaza Strip (generally spouses of residents of the Occupied Territories) to live there. Not only is the demand to apply for family unification ridiculous as regards people who have never lived apart from their families and have always resided in the West Bank, but the procedure cannot even be implemented, since Israel has frozen handling of all family unification requests over the last seven years. Furthermore, even if the freeze is removed, and the quota applied prior to the outbreak of the second intifada remains in effect, it would take dozens of years to arrange their status. B'Tselem has taken the testimonies of Palestinians without a legal status who began the family unification process when they were minors, who are now married with families, and have yet to receive a status.

Effects on daily life

Possession of an ID card is especially important in the Occupied Territories, where Israel runs a complex and cumbersome bureaucratic system. Due to the severe restrictions on movement that Israel imposes on Palestinians, many residents are required to show proof of identity on a daily basis, at the many checkpoints that are spread throughout the West Bank or at the Erez Crossing on Gaza's border. Persons who cannot provide official proof of their identity are subjected to harassment, delays and even denial of the right to pass through checkpoints. Those unregistered persons who insist on trying to live normatively despite their lack of status are forced to deal with daily humiliation and harassment.

Raafat Abu Ra'iyeh, a resident of Tarqumya in the Hebron District, told B'Tselem about the routine he has been forced to adopt because he does not have an ID card: “About a year and a half ago, I found work in a bakery in al-‘Eizariya. I work and sleep in the bakery and almost never leave it. Each time I return to Hebron, I'm detained at the Container checkpoint until they verify my story, which takes about four hours. Sometimes, after I pass through that checkpoint, I'm detained again at the Gush Etzion checkpoint. It's been over six months now since I last saw my family. I miss them a lot, but I'm too scared to go to Hebron because of the checkpoints.”

While Abu Ra'iyeh pays a heavy price for insisting on supporting himself, others who have no status cannot find work at all, and are forced to depend financially on their families. Mu'az Abu 'Eid, from the village of Bidu in Ramallah District, will soon be a young father but has no idea how he will support his new family: “Because I can't work outside the village and there are almost no jobs in Bidu, my financial situation is bad. I rely on support from my parents and brothers. Being a financial burden on them is very hard on me psychologically. My wife is six months' pregnant, and soon I'll be a father. The financial burden I already place on my family will grow even heavier. I don't know how I'll be able to support the newborn child. “

Mahmoud Nawaj'ah, a resident of Susiya in the Hebron District, used harsher words to describe his problems finding work due to his lack of status: “Without an ID card, I don't exist; I'm like one of my sheep. I can't work in Israel without an ID card. I earn a living only from grazing, which doesn't bring in enough money to meet my family's needs.”

Another important aspect of life without an ID card is unregistered persons' inability to fully realize the basic right to education. Children who have no ID numbers come up against various obstacles during their formal schooling. Those who manage to overcome bureaucracy and graduate high school - usually due to pressure by the family on key figures in the education system - are then often forced to give up on hopes of higher education. Bureaucratic obstacles to registration combine with difficulty to get to the few universities and colleges that are dispersed throughout the West Bank. Safa Fuqahaa from the town of Tubas in the northern West Bank had to give up on her plans for professional training: “After I finished high school, I started to attend nursing school at the A-Rawda College in Nablus. At the beginning of the fourth semester, the second intifada began and the Israeli army set up a lot of checkpoints on the way to Nablus. I had to stop studying because I can't pass through checkpoints without an ID card. Stopping my studies was traumatic for me, especially because I was one of the top students”.

Unregistered persons suffer also from a particularly painful repercussion of their lack of status: many find it difficult to marry, as potential partners are deterred by the daily burden and constant restrictions that accompany life without status. Lena Fuqahaa from ‘Ein al-Beida in Jenin District told B'Tselem she has almost given up hope of marrying and starting her own family: “A few men have proposed to me, but each time they changed their mind once my parents told them that I don't have an ID card. I wouldn't start a new life either with someone who doesn't have an ID number. It's just asking for trouble. It hurts me a lot that I can't marry, especially since all my girlfriends and female relatives are married.”

Intisar Abu ‘Issa, a resident of Deir al-Ghusun in the Tulkarm District, chose to have children who are now paying the price of their mother's lack of status: “When my son Majdi was four, he suffered face burns and needed cosmetic surgery to remove the facial scars and distortions. We planned to go abroad for the operation, but I couldn't go because I didn't have an ID card. He was a small child and very dependent on me, and we had to cancel the trip. Majdi did not get the treatment he needed.”

These testimonies, from a mere handful out of an unknown number of West Bank and Gaza Strip residents who live without ID cards, offer an insight into the absurdity of life without legal status. It is preposterous that a person be forced to depend on the random kindness of a security official, as occurred in a case witnessed by B'Tselem, in which a Palestinian without status was released from detention imposed on him after the detention facility's computer was fed a fictitious ID number.

Israel's obligations

International humanitarian law requires the occupier to “take all the measures in his power to restore, and ensure, as far as possible, public order and safety”. In another article, the Hague Regulations require the occupier to respect family rights in the occupied territory. These provisions are part of international customary law, which bind the military authorities in occupied territory with respect to their actions regarding the civilian population. Israel has acknowledged its obligation to comply with the humanitarian provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Article 27 of the Convention states that, “Protected persons are entitled, in all circumstances to respect for . . . their family rights.”

International human rights law stipulates that, “Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law”. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights also recognizes the right of every person to a nationality, to found a family, to social security, to free choice of employment, to an adequate standard of health and well-being, and to education.

The Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Israel ratified, recognizes the right to liberty of movement to everyone lawfully within the territory of the state. The Convention on the Rights of the Child, also ratified by Israel, requires that a child be registered immediately after birth, and recognizes the right to “the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health”, the right to education and to higher education that is accessible to all on the basis of capacity. The Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, also ratified by Israel, recognizes the right of everyone to social security, that “the widest possible protection and assistance should be accorded to the family”, and the right to education.

In its prolonged refusal to offer a practicable and rapid solution to the problem of persons without a legal status, and its attempt to turn this humanitarian problem into a political- negotiation tool, Israel has infringed, time and again, the rights of these persons to a normal life in the territory it occupies.

B'Tselem calls on the government of Israel to arrange immediately, in the Palestinian population registry, the registration of Palestinians without a legal status.