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HaMoked to the Court: instruct the Ministry of Interior and the Military to ensure that people entitled to stay permits, as part of family unification processes, receive the renewal before the old permit expires

Since the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law (Temporary Order) 5767–2003 came into force, the family unification process of Israeli citizens and residents with spouses from the occupied territories does not end with the receipt of permanent residency status in Israel, and in fact does not end at all. According to the law, residents of the occupied territories who wish to live in Israel or East Jerusalem with their spouse are only able to legalize their status via temporary stay permits, which are typically valid for a year from their date of issue. These permits are referred to as "DCO permits" because they are issued by the Military's District Coordination Office (DCO), following a referral from the Ministry of Interior.

Prior to the expiration of DCO permits, the holders of such permits are required to request a referral for renewal from the Ministry of Interior. Until recently, following the submission of a request for permit renewal, the Ministry of Interior would notify applicants via text message stating they could visit the DCO in order to collect their new permit. The applicant would then be issued a new permit immediately upon visiting the DCO. This procedure ensured the continuous legality of the applicants' stays in Israel or East Jerusalem.

In May 2017 the text message system was suddenly cancelled. Applicants who visited the DCO based on a written referral from the Ministry of Interior, discovered upon arrival that their permit had not yet been issued, thus suddenly becoming "illegal aliens" against their will. Following complaints by HaMoked on the matter, a response from the Military was received on July 13, 2017, stating that a new procedure has been put in place regarding stay permits. According to the new procedure, applicants will receive a referral from the Ministry of Interior to visit the DCO only after a note about them has been entered into the DCO's computer system. As such, the Military claimed, there is no longer a need to send text messages informing applicants that they can visit the DCO in order to collect their permits, and this procedure has been cancelled.

However, even after the new procedure was published in November 2017, the problem persisted. Despite being provided with a referral for a new permit from the Ministry of Interior, applicants would be notified, upon arrival at the DCO, that it was not yet possible to issue a new permit for them. Additionally, the Ministry of Interior began exceeding the timetable, as defined in its own procedure, for processing stay permit requests.

Consequentially, and following a lack of response to letters to the various authorities requesting that they resolve the issue, HaMoked appealed to the Administrative Court in Jerusalem regarding the ongoing failure of the Ministry of Interior and the Military to issue stay permits in accordance with the defined timetable for residents of the occupied territories who are residing lawfully in Israel or East Jerusalem.

In the petition, HaMoked demanded that the Ministry of Interior and the Military act immediately to correct the serious failure in the coordination between them, and act to renew stay permits within the timeline set in the procedures. HaMoked clarified that the current conduct turns Palestinians from the occupied territories who are following the State's procedures and living lawfully in Israel or East Jerusalem, into "illegal aliens" through no fault of their own. In this situation, they are unable to move freely in their city or provide for their families, and are even afraid to leave their homes for fear they might be deported to the West Bank. They are exposed to abuse, delays, arrests and are at risk of having criminal proceedings taken against them for residing in Israel illegally, and having their right to healthcare revoked.

HaMoked emphasized that the conduct of the Military and the Ministry of Interior has a direct impact on the rights of Israeli residents, and in particular their basic right to legalize the status of their family members who live with them. HaMoked added that these people – most of whom live with their families in East Jerusalem – are in a truly impossible situation, with no outlet to which they can turn in order to resolve their situation. This is due to the lack of accessibility in recent months, by any means whatsoever - including by phone, fax or e-mail - of the Ministry of Interior's bureau in East Jerusalem. (02) 627 1698   (02) 627 6317

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