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22.4.2019

Wholesale denial of responsibility: HaMoked protests the Ministry of Interior’s attempt to dismiss all appeals against its failure to respond to requests for family unification and child registration in East Jerusalem

For years now, HaMoked has been assisting Palestinian families from East Jerusalem to register their children in the population registry and obtain a permit or residency status for non-Jerusalemite spouses who are subject to the restrictions of the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law. In addition to the difficulties stemming from this law, one of the hurdles facing these families is the outrageous foot dragging of the Ministry of Interior, as a result of which, many residents of the city must wait for years in order to receive basic services of crucial importance.

Often cases get resolved only when HaMoked files an appeal to the Appeals Tribunal to compel the Ministry of Interior to respond, after protracted delay by Ministry clerks. In some of these cases, resolution is achieved through a ruling of the Tribunal; in others, the Ministry finally responds even before a hearing takes place. In 2018, for example, it was only following an appeal to the Tribunal that the Ministry of Interior gave status in Israel to two daughters of an East Jerusalem resident who escaped her abusive spouse – she had waited for a response for over a year before filing an appeal. In another case from that year, it was only following an appeal that the Ministry of Interior retracted its intention to revoke the status of two East Jerusalem children because their relative committed an act of violence. In a third case, concerning the registration of two children of a permanent resident from East Jerusalem, HaMoked had to file a second appeal, after the Ministry of Interior kept delaying its decision beyond the deadline set by the Tribunal in the previous appeal. In this last case, the Tribunal fined the Ministry of Interior and, as in other cases, strongly criticized the Ministry for failing to uphold its obligations.

But recently the Ministry of Interior came up with a warped solution for their failure to provide basic services and started filing a series of requests – actually each the same generic request – to the Appeals Tribunal to delete appeals and “cancel hearings if any have been scheduled”, in cases concerning their failure to respond to requests for child registration or family unification in East Jerusalem. This, in order to enable the Ministry to "handle" the overload as they see fit. The request notes that the Ministry of Interior receives 600 new family unification requests annually, and handles “yearly and repeatedly” some 6,500 ongoing family unification requests… under the provisions of the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law… with all that it entails”. The request clarifies that “generally, each year the [East Jerusalem Population Authority] Bureau must conduct a repeat assessment regarding the center-of-life, the authenticity of the tie, the joint life, and also to apply anew to security officials and the Israel Police before issuing a stay permit for another year to the sponsored spouse”. Thus bemoans the Ministry of Interior. In fact, the heavy burden involved in renewing stay permits is borne primarily by the families living under the shadow of this discriminatory law, not by Ministry officials. But instead of acting to reduce the load by seeking to change the Law and its own procedures, the Ministry now asks the Appeals Tribunal to give it an “exemption” from proceedings, so it can continue dragging its feet without interference.

The Ministry's request specifies that some 1,800 requests to register children with only one Jerusalem resident parent are filed annually, and that currently there are 1,500 such requests pending at the East Jerusalem Bureau. Delay in the registration of a child means that they are left without many social rights, their parents do not receive benefits for them, and other difficulties, such as enrolling the child in a kindergarten or school. Yet, as stated, the Ministry is not inclined to do the utmost to resolve these cases; instead it seeks to implement, at its own pace and without interference, a work plan it formulated. According to the plan, “by the end of June 2019, a final decision will be issued in [child registration] requests still pending from 2016”; by the end of December 2019 and December 2020, a decision will be issued in requests left open from 2017 and 2018, respectively. As to family unification requests, according to the declared plan, by December 2019 and 2020, final decisions would be issued in requests left open from 2017 and 2018, respectively. The plan does not state when the “1,200 requests pending from 2016” for family unification – a figure also given in the request – are to be decided.

In response, HaMoked submitted to the Tribunal a scathing protest in all appeals in which the Ministry’s request was filed. HaMoked strongly objected to deleting the appeals, and clarified that for years the Ministry has been trampling the rights of this indigenous population of East Jerusalem, processing their requests for family unification and child registration in a disorganized, negligent and protracted manner. HaMoked stressed that this unacceptable conduct contradicts basic human rights and the obligations of the Ministry as an administrative authority; moreover that this conduct actually promotes the Ministry’s policy to encourage the Palestinian population to leave the city. HaMoked recalled that a few months earlier, the High Court of Justice (HCJ) issued an order nisi in a petition by HaMoked and Ma'an, compelling the State to explain its failure to find a solution for the unacceptable and intolerable conditions at the Ministry of Interior’s East Jerusalem Bureau.

HaMoked claimed in its response that the Ministry of Interior seeks to gravely infringe the right of access to justice of legal residents of Israel; that according to the Ministry’s plan, many family members, among them children, will remain without status and rights for at least another 18 months; and that this is a wrongful attempt to recruit the Tribunal to aid the Ministry of Interior in the ongoing, wholesale infringement of rights. HaMoked criticized the Ministry of Interior’s preposterous claim that it is acting out of concern for those who did not appeal to the Tribunal, and therefore planned to process the requests in chronological order, according to their filing date, without being obliged to expedite processing following appeals. This offensive claim is baseless, said HaMoked. As evidenced by the cases cited above, many cases would drag on forever were it not for appeals to the Tribunal. An appeal is an accessible and necessary tool that can help applicants compel the Ministry to decide their case, and perhaps also prompt it to process all such requests within a reasonable timeframe. HaMoked added that insofar as the Ministry is concerned about those “who cannot afford” to file an appeal, it is welcome to refer them to HaMoked, who can give them expert assistance free-of-charge.
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