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Following legal proceedings: a Palestinian widow can continue living in Israel, although she has been left without a “sponsor” in the country; the Ministry of Interior was ordered to pay trial costs due to its undue delays

The protocols of the Ministry of Interior stipulate that the process of family unification for spouses terminates as soon as the marriage “dissolves”. Thus, in cases where the Israeli husband passes away, the newly widowed women who have been undergoing family unification, must also face the threat of instant deportation from their home of many years to the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) – where, often, they have no one waiting for them. Such cases are referred to the Humanitarian Committee authorized to recommend the Minister of Interior to issue stay permits or grant temporary status for “special humanitarian reasons”. But the committee refuses to consider applications in cases of childless widows, on the grounds that remaining in Israel for “exceptional humanitarian reasons” is possible only if the applicant is “sponsored” by an immediate relative lawfully residing in Israel, be it spouse, parent or child. Thus, Palestinian widows suffer from discrimination vis-à-vis non-Palestinian widows whose applications are considered based on their overall ties to the country, even in the absence of a sponsor.

In 1995, a Palestinian woman from the West Bank married an Israeli resident and moved to live with him in East Jerusalem. In 2000, her husband’s application for family unification with her was approved and the woman began receiving military permits for staying in Israel. For the next eleven years, the woman lived in Israel pursuant to stay permits only (which afford no social security rights or any other right), because the Citizenship and Entry to Israel Law (Temporary Order) made her ineligible for Israeli status. In 2011, her husband passed away, and overnight, the woman found herself under threat of deportation from her home and supportive community for more than fifteen years. Her predicament prompted the Ministry of interior branch office in East Jerusalem to initiate a request to the Humanitarian Committee to grant the woman status. However, on December 9, 2012, the committee notified HaMoked, which started handling the woman’s case, that the woman’s request to continue receiving Israeli stay permits had been rejected, because “this application has no ‘sponsor’, so the Minister and the Committee are not authorized to consider the application”. This meant, in effect, that the application was not denied as non-humanitarian, or because of criminal- or security-related reasons, but simply because the woman had no children from her late husband.

On March 12, 2013, HaMoked petitioned the High Court of Justice (HCJ) to instruct the Ministry of Interior to grant the woman temporary residency in Israel, based on her extended period of life in Israel. HaMoked stressed that the humanitarian committee’s decision infringed on the woman’s rights to dignity and equality; more so given her weakened position as a widow in traditional Palestinian society. HaMoked also pointed out the absurdity that her application was disqualified as humanitarian for the very same reason which made her case humanitarian in the first place – the death of her husband. HaMoked, therefore, asked the court to revoke the Law’s injurious and unbalanced provision, whereby a “humanitarian exemption” existed was in cases where the applicant from the OPT had a “sponsor” legally staying in Israel.

In its response, the state announced that the woman’s case would be brought before the interministerial committee for granting status on humanitarian grounds – an instance which does not require having a “sponsor”; therefore, the state requested the summary dismissal of the petition. HaMoked countered that the interministerial committee had no jurisdiction in the matter, and was only authorized to advise the Ministry of Interior regarding foreign applicants who were not subject to the Temporary Order. HaMoked also argued that transferring the woman’s case to this committee would not resolve the problem for other Palestinian widows in the same predicament. Therefore, HaMoked demanded that the petition be considered on its merits and the remedies sought therein discussed. However, the court ruled on August 7, 2013, that the petition had run its course and should be deleted.

On November 13, 2014, more than a year later, and without the interministerial committee having considered her case as was guaranteed, the Ministry of Interior announced it had decided to reject the woman’s application; the ministry claimed, inter alia, that the woman’s contact with her two siblings and son from her first marriage was a lot stronger than she had professed at an earlier ministry hearing, and that she regularly visited the three at their homes in the West Bank; therefore, the ministry concluded, “your ties to the ‘Area’ are stronger than your ties to Israel”.

On December 9, 2014, HaMoked appealed the Appeals Tribunal to instruct the Ministry of Interior to retract its decision and approve the woman’s application without delay. HaMoked challenged the ministry’s base manner of raising a variety of pretexts to justify its refusal. HaMoked particularly condemned the fact that the ministry did not hesitate to recall the son who was living in the West Bank, even though it was already known the woman’s three children from her previous marriage, this son included, were estranged from their mother, after they were placed in the custody of the father’s family. HaMoked also noted that, all in all, the woman had visited the West Bank for just ten days per year, and so it was unclear how the ministry had concluded that her ties to the West Bank were stronger than to Israel. Finally, HaMoked emphasized that this was an unreasonable and unfair decision, which was made in blatant breach of the ministry’s undertaking before the HCJ to transfer the application to the interministerial committee.

Following the appeal, the Ministry of Interior announced that “given the exceptional circumstances of the case and on an ex gratia basis”, the case would be transferred for consideration by the Population Authority Director. It took three more months for the ministry to announce on June 14, 2015, that the Director had decided to accept the woman’s application and allow her to remain in Israel pursuant to renewable stay permits. Due to the excessive length of proceedings and the fact that “it was the filing of the appeal that prompted the Respondent to retract its decision”, the Appeals Tribunal imposed on the Ministry of Interior trial costs in the sum of ILS 2,500. (02) 627 1698   (02) 627 6317

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