“If not in a case like this, then when?”: Following pressure from the HCJ in HaMoked petition, the Ministry of Interior undertakes to grant temporary residency status to a Palestinian widow, living in East Jerusalem for 25 years without social security rights המוקד להגנת הפרט
“If not in a case like this, then when?”: Following pressure from the HCJ in HaMoked petition, the Ministry of Interior undertakes to grant temporary residency status to a Palestinian widow, living in East Jerusalem for 25 years without social security rights
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“The appeal is rejected… this subject to the declaration of the State’s Representative that Appellant No. 1 can file a new request in another two years and it will be considered positively, barring a change of circumstances to her detriment.” This laconic judgment of the High Court of Justice (HCJ), issued on December 25, 2019, marks the successful conclusion of a protracted saga, which clearly reveals the depth of the Ministry of Interior’s callousness in handling humanitarian cases.

Mrs. Abu Qteish, now in her early sixties, is originally from the West Bank. In 1995 she married a widower from East Jerusalem. Since then she has been living in the city legally – but only pursuant to renewable stay permits issued by the military, and therefore she cannot receive social security rights, despite the fact that she has been living and providing for her family for over two decades.

Soon after her marriage, in 1996, her husband filed a request for family unification – a procedure that should have taken five years if the Ministry of Interior had handled it properly, with Mrs. Abu Qteish receiving permanent residency status in Israel. But for some obscure reason the Ministry of Interior accepted her into the process only three years later, in 1999, and only then did Mrs. Abu Qteish start to receive permits to stay in Israel. A short time later, in 2000, her husband died of cancer and she was left to care for their two toddler children, and also for two of his children from his first marriage, who were chronically ill. The Ministry of Interior, as it does in such cases, terminated the graduated procedure following her husband’s death and refused to continue giving her stay permits.

Only following Mrs. Abu Qteish’s petition to the High Court of Justice (HCJ 8444/01) was her case was brought before the Ministry of Interior’s committee for exceptions for humanitarian matters. In 2002, the committee decided not to give the widow status in Israel. Eventually, in the framework of her still-pending petition, the HCJ decided her case was to be brought before a different humanitarian committee, established in 2008 under the “Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law (Temporary Order), 5763-2003”.

In March 2009, this committee decided that Mrs. Abu Qteish was to receive renewable stay permits until her children became adults. Mrs. Abu Qteish contested this decision in the framework of her still-pending petition. In a March 2010 hearing, the court opted to leave the committee’s decision standing, ruling that “stay permits do not detract from the woman’s rights or efforts to receive permanent status. Possibly, without expressing an opinion in the matter, the passage of time might be counted to her benefit”.

Given her youngest son’s 18th birthday was approaching, Mrs. Abu Qteish filed on April 2014 a humanitarian request to receive status in Israel irrespective of the age of her children. In November 2014, her request was denied. In January 2015, she petitioned the HCJ against this decision. The court decided to keep the petition pending until judgment was issued in other petitions then pending concerning status upgrades of Palestinians whose family unification requests were filed prior to the entry into force of the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law. This matter was resolved in 2016, when the Minister of Interior decided to upgrade the status of some 1,500 Palestinians whose request had been filed before the enactment of the Law.

However, Mrs. Abu Qteish did not receive an upgrade because the Minister of Interior’s decision did not apply to cases such as hers, of people who were moved to the humanitarian track following the “lapse of the spousal relationship”. In the absence of any other option, HaMoked requested to have her case considered once again by the humanitarian committee. HaMoked noted that according to the Ministry of Interior (in a response to HaMoked’s principled demand), the Committee gives consideration to cases in which a request had been submitted “before the end of 2003 and the applicant was part of a family unification procedure before the life event that led to the termination of the procedure”. In a display of heartlessness antithetical to its purpose, the humanitarian committee rejected the woman’s request once more, and decided that she would continue receiving only renewable stay permits.

And so HaMoked was forced to file another petition to demand that Mrs. Abu Qteish be given residency status in Israel, this time to the District Court, which assumed jurisdiction over this matter (AP 23917-09-18). The District Court rejected HaMoked’s petition on June 18, 2019 and HaMoked appealed to the Supreme Court on July 11, 2019. In the appeal HaMoked argued that the District Court erred in deciding not to intervene in the Ministry of Interior’s decision to leave the woman without residency status in her country. HaMoked stressed that this was “an elderly woman, a widow, who spent years raising chronically ill children, and has been living in Jerusalem for a quarter of a century, [and yet] she still depends on a temporary military permit in order to live in the city”. HaMoked stressed that the Ministry of Interior’s position was outrageous and violated the right to family life of Mrs. Abu Qteish and her two Israeli resident children, as well as the woman’s basic social security rights. HaMoked argued also that humanitarian considerations are substantive concerns and should not be resolved as a matter of good will, and that a permanent solution was needed in this case, “that will enable the woman to spend the rest of her life with dignity in her home and with her family in Israel”.

In the hearing of December 25, 2019, the Supreme Court pressed the state to consider giving the woman residency status “at a reasonable date in the future” because of “the accumulation of circumstances”. As Justice Vogelman said in the hearing: “If not in a case like this, then when?”. Following this, the state representative announced in the hearing that: “As a gesture and noting your honors’ comments and the entire complex circumstances, the appellant may file a new request two years from today, which will be positively considered, provided there is no change in the circumstances”.

And thus after years of run-around in the Ministry of Interior’s “humanitarian” committee, Mrs. Abu Qteish’s saga finally reached a satisfactory conclusion.
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