The ongoing family unification freeze in the oPt: while thousands of foreign spouses live in the West Bank with no legal status, the Israeli Defense Ministry reported it received no family unification applications in 2020-2021 המוקד להגנת הפרט
21.11.2021
The ongoing family unification freeze in the oPt: while thousands of foreign spouses live in the West Bank with no legal status, the Israeli Defense Ministry reported it received no family unification applications in 2020-2021
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The Israeli military maintains decisive control over the Palestinian population registry for the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and prevents foreigners from receiving legal status there. Under the Oslo Accords, the power to administer the population registry in the OPT was officially transferred to the Palestinian Authority (PA) and marriage was recognized as a criterion for family unification. However, Israel retained the authority to approve family unification applications, and in 2000 stopped processing such applications (except in the framework of two diplomatic “gestures”, the first in 2007 and the second recently, in August 2021). With no hope of undergoing formal family unification, thousands of foreign spouses live in the West Bank with no legal status at all - “illegal aliens” in their own home. At best, they have short-term permits, which generally can only be renewed if the spouse temporarily leaves the West Bank for this purpose. In this state of affairs, both spouses and their children are condemned to live in uncertainty and fear that the foreign spouse/parent may be deported or if they travel abroad, denied the possibility to return home (see HaMoked’s August 2021 position paper on this issue). 

Israel’s denies its responsibility for this situation. It refuses to accept family unification applications, insisting that it can only consider applications for status in the oPt (i.e., family unification applications) that it receives via the PA. The PA insists that it no longer transfers such applications as Israel refuses to accept them. In 2018, HaMoked tried to break this impasse and put an end to the families’ misery by filing a series of petitions to the High Court of Justice (HCJ), demanding that Israel allow foreign spouses to receive legal status in the oPt in cases where family unification applications had been filed for them years ago via the PA. The petitions were deleted after the High Court justices accepted the state’s position regarding excessive delay in seeking court assistance and lack of proof that the applications had in fact been transferred to the Israeli side.

Data provided by the Israeli Ministry of Defense on November 11, 2021, in response to HaMoked’s freedom of information request, indicates that the unacceptable situation continues unchanged. According to the response, the military received from the PA a total of six family unification applications filed on behalf of foreigners in 2019; and received no such requests in the years 2020-2021 (aside from the recent diplomatic gesture). The military stated that all of the applications received by Israel, are “pending completion of details” by the PA. 

The military also supplied data regarding the number of applications for visitors permits or for the renewal of such permits which were transferred by the PA during 2019-2021. These are permits primarily for spouses with Jordanian passports, who are not able to enter Israel on tourist visas. The figures provided (without clarifying whether they were filed on behalf of foreign spouses or foreign widows/widowers of Palestinians): 5,711 applications were filed 2019; 717 in 2020; and 1,145 in 2021 (up to the date of the response).  

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