Shahar Ilan: Uniting with Themselves

By Shahar Ilan 

Can a person have a family unification with himself? Seemingly, nothing could be more absurd, because family unification by definition is a process intended to unite a citizen or resident with a person who is neither. If someone is a citizen or resident, he does not require family reunification. And if he is not, how would he invite himself to unite with himself? 

This is not an exercise in logic. "Self family unification" has become a common term in East Jerusalem’s Population Bureau over the last two years. In the past, when Israel deprived Arab residents of Jerusalem of their status as residents after a few years’ absence, they could ask to reinstate it via a simple process. Today, they are required to apply for something called "self family unification" and start a process similar to family unification, which could take up to a year or two. 

In June 2005, Hamoked – the Center for the Defense of the Individual, a human rights organization that helps Palestinians, asked the Interior Ministry for the "self family unification" procedure. "Recently, our office has encountered a new trend in your bureau – demanding that permanent East Jerusalem residents whose residency was revoked apply for self family reunification in order to get it back," the center wrote. "In a conversation with officials in the East Jerusalem bureau, it emerged that this is a new procedure introduced about two months ago." 

About a year later, when it had still not received a reply, Hamoked asked the Interior Ministry again for details of the procedure. Attorney Yotam Ben Hilel of Hamoked wrote that the "self family unification" process is a deviation from the policy in place for many years, under which requests to restore residency rights were not treated as requests for family reunification. In June, a year after the first letter, the Interior Ministry official in charge of Freedom of Information, Shalom Benamo, replied: "Self family reunification is an internal term we use that means asking for a permit to live permanently in Israel … There is no procedure for self family reunification. There is a procedure for requesting a permit for permanent residence." 

However, this internal term reflects the absurdity in the best possible way: The State of Israel is asking people to unite with themselves. Sometimes, it seems that there is no end to the ways the Interior Ministry finds to abuse residents of East Jerusalem, as punishment either for having received Israeli residency, or for requesting it. 

The line at the entrance to the old Population Bureau in East Jerusalem used to be the most notorious in the country. On the face of it, service has improved greatly since the bureau moved to a newer building. In fact, attorney Oded Feller of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel says that the long line has simply been replaced by four different lines, which are almost as exhausting as the old one. 

The first line, which looks more like a gathering, is outside the building, at the entrance to the security check corridor. The second line, inside the corridor, is especially slow, so as not to create pressure inside. The third line is outside the yearned-for bureau door. People waiting in the first three lines must sometimes remain on their feet for several hours. Those fortunate enough to reach the end of the first three lines will be required to wait for an additional lengthy period (sitting down) for service at the counters. 

Administrative Court Judge Boaz Okon wrote: "In a few years, we’ll be rubbing our eyes … How did we put up with what is already clear? Piling up bureaucratic obstacles is another way of saying what is self-evident, which is that these requests [for family reunification] are not pleasing to the respondent [the Population Administration]." 

Granted, these things are happening beyond the hills, in East Jerusalem, which is part of the state of Jerusalem, and very far from the Dan region. But in practice, they are happening here, across the road, and we are responsible for them. 

The religious public loves to accuse the secular establishment of enacting the laws of Sodom. The laws of Sodom are not the laws that enable homosexuals to live proudly. The laws of Sodom are the Population Bureau’s procedures, which decree that so many of East Jerusalem’s residents have no rights, until proven otherwise, or until the court rules otherwise. And even if the authorities concede a person’s right to live here, they will make his life a misery for years on end as punishment for having had the temerity to ask. 

© Haaretz ( September 28, 2006

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