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17.6.2018

Israel continues to harm the right of Palestinians to family life: the state persists in its refusal to examine family unification requests submitted by Palestinian residents of the Occupied Territories

For many years, Israel has conducted an extremely restrictive policy regarding requests for family unification in the Occupied Territories (OPT). As a result, couples where one of the partners is a Palestinian resident of the West Bank and the other is a foreign national, have little chance to regularize the foreign partner's residency in the West Bank. In the year 2000, following the outbreak of the Second Intifada, Israel froze its handling of such requests altogether. Following a series of petitions submitted by HaMoked to the High Court of Justice (HCJ) against the freeze, in 2008 the State announced it would examine 50,000 pending requests for family unification in the OPT, as part of a "diplomatic gesture" to the Palestinian Authority. Data received by HaMoked from various sources indicates that Israel approved approximately 35,000 requests as part of the gesture, but official figures on the matter were never received from the State.


Since this diplomatic gesture, no official change has occurred in Israel's policy regarding family unification in the OPT, and new requests are generally not considered, aside from the most exceptional humanitarian cases. Thus, the foreign partners of Palestinian residents of the OPT are forced to live in the West Bank by virtue of temporary visitor's permits, or with no legal status at all. This policy causes serious harm to the right of many Palestinians to family life.


On January 11, 2018, HaMoked submitted a request under the Freedom of Information law to the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), asking for data regarding family unification and visitor's permits to the OPT. HaMoked asked, among other things, how many family unification requests had been conveyed to Israel by the Palestinian Authority – outside of any "diplomatic gestures" – in each of the years 2007-2018; how many of these had been approved; how many "diplomatic gestures" for family unification in the OPT took place between these years and what their conditions were; how many requests for visitor's permits in the West Bank were conveyed from the OPT between the years 2010-2017; and whether a visitor's permit for a foreign partner constitutes a permit to work in the West Bank.


On June 12, 2018, five months after the request was submitted, HaMoked received the State's response to the request. The response began with a strange comment by the Civil Administration Public Liaison Officer (CAPLO), according to which HaMoked's use of the term "family unification" in this context is inaccurate, because "the request is in fact on the subject of applications to permit immigration to the area on the grounds of marriage." This comment contradicts the COGAT's own internal procedure, which refers to requests of this type as family unification requests, as well as the use of the term by the HCJ and the military authorities in the OPT. The Israeli Population and Immigration Authority also similarly refers to requests submitted by couples where one of the partners is Israeli and the other is a foreign national as requests for family unification.


Following this strange assertion, the CAPLO stated that he is unable to provide data regarding the usage of the gesture from 2008, as it is "extremely old", having ended a decade ago, and the office-holders serving at the time are no longer in the same positions and there is no electronic documentation of the information. It was further stated that new requests meeting the requirements of the gesture are no longer received, and the gesture is not active. The CAPLO also stated that there is no available data regarding family unification requests submitted between 2010-2013, and that the data regarding later years is extremely partial.


Regarding visitor's permits to the West Bank, it was stated that 32,598 permits were approved between 2010-2017, though no information was provided regarding requests that had been rejected during those years. Finally, it was stated that these permits are granted solely for the purpose of visiting the West Bank and do not constitute permits to work there, and that "no visitor's permits are issued to foreign nationals who are married to Palestinian residents for the purpose of residency in the area."


The CAPLO's response indicates a lack of understanding of the working procedure's in his own bureau, and a failure to document vital information regarding requests for family unification in the West Bank. It is clear from the response that Israel is persisting in its refusal to consider family unification requests submitted by Palestinian residents of the OPT, almost two decades after the policy was enacted, and that the state doesn't even bother to document requests conveyed by the Palestinian Authority. It can be assumed that since the approval of family unification requests under the 2008 "gesture", thousands of Palestinians have fallen in love, gotten married and started families, and Israel's policy denies these people their right to family life.


mail@hamoked.org.il (02) 627 1698   (02) 627 6317

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