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The High Court of Justice has stepped in to resolve a bureaucratic snafu that had potentially life-altering consequences.
Three Palestinian children, 10-year-old Nasaam Sabah, seven-year-old Amir-Sa'id Sabah and four-year-old Amam-Sa'id Sabah, were born in the West Bank and are registered as such in the Palestinian population registry and in their Palestinian Authority identity cards.
According to the Israeli version of the Palestinian registry, though, the siblings are registered as having been born in Rafah, in the Gaza Strip, an error that apparently stems from the fact that their mother was born in Rafah.
Israel keeps a mirror copy of the Palestinian population registry. It determines the status of Palestinians in the territories it controls in accordance with what is recorded in the Israeli copy of the Palestinian registry.
Until the year 2000, it updated the registry according to information supplied by the PA. Since then, it has stopped doing so, particularly with regard to Palestinians who have moved from Gaza to the West Bank. It no longer recognizes the right of Gazans to live in the West Bank and treats the two areas as separate entities.
This is what makes the erroneous Israeli registry no small matter. Having a Gaza address makes the children illegal sojourners in the West Bank. If they were to be stopped at an Israeli checkpoint, they could be expelled and "returned" to the Gaza Strip.
According to the petitioners, represented by attorney Ido Blum of the human rights organization Moked-Defense of the Individual, the family moved from one West Bank home to another in 2005 and notified the Palestinian Interior Ministry of the change of address. The ministry sent a notice to the Israeli authorities on December 8, 2006, informing them of the change of address and the fact that the children were born in the West Bank.
But the children continue to be registered in Israel's copy of the Palestinian population registry as having been born in Gaza.
On March 21, 2007, the PA sent another notification to the Israeli authorities. Once again, Israel did nothing about it. In March, Moked petitioned the High Court to order the state to change the registry entry.
During a court hearing on Monday, the state's representative, Hila Gorney, acknowledged in court that Israel had indeed made a mistake in registering the children as having been born in Gaza and confirmed that they had been born in the West Bank.
So why do does Israel refuse to correct the mistake?
"Israel demands a request from the PA to change the [Israeli] population registry," she explained to the court. "What we received was a notification. The PA must send us a detailed request, asking us to change the registry."
The justices were taken aback by the answer.
"Since there is no dispute between the sides in this case, surely you can make the change," said Deputy Supreme Court President Eliezer Rivlin. "It's not clear what you're afraid of."
Justice Yoram Danziger said, "If you examined the matter yourself and found that the facts were correct [i.e. that the children were incorrectly registered as having been born in Gaza], why do you have to ask the PA to send a request for you to examine whether the facts are correct or not?"
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