Court hears case on family reunion rights for Palestinians

The Supreme Court hears arguments of human rights group in landmark case that could determine the fates of scores of Palestinian children.

November 26, 2010 02:00
3 minute read.
Palestinians in Jabalya celeberate Hamas attack.

Palestinians. (photo credit: Associated Press)

The Supreme Court on Thursday heard the arguments of a human rights group in a case that could determine the fates of scores of Palestinian children who, the group maintains, should be granted permanent residency in Israel.

In 2008, the Jerusalem-based human rights organization Hamoked – Center for the Defense of the Individual petitioned against the Interior Ministry after the latter rejected an application for permanent residency from Basa’a Srur, a Palestinian who was born in Jerusalem, who has lived there permanently since 2002 and whose mother is a permanent resident of Israel.

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Challenging the NGO mythology

The Jerusalem District Court, sitting as the Court for Administrative Matters, accepted Hamoked’s petition and ordered the ministry to grant Srur permanent residency status. The state appealed the decision to the Supreme Court.

The outcome of the appeal will determine the fate of Palestinians aged 12 to 14 who were born out of marriages between mixed Israeli- Palestinian couples and who wish to live with their Israeli parents in the country.

Thursday’s hearing was held before Supreme Court Justices Elyakim Rubinstein, Neal Hendel and Uzi Fogelman. Since the state was not present due to the government prosecutors’ strike, the court granted it seven days from the end of the strike to respond to Hamoked’s arguments. The court is due to hand down its ruling soon afterward, without holding another hearing.

Srur was born in Jerusalem on September 30, 1991. Shortly afterward, the family moved to the West Bank. In 1993, they went to Jordan, returning to the West Bank in 1997. In 2002, the family moved back to Jerusalem and has lived there ever since.

When Srur was 12 years and three months old, he applied for residential status in Israel. At the same time, however, the minister of interior, on his own initiative, added an additional condition to the process of granting residential status to children up to the age of 14: They would be granted temporary residence status for two years, and only after that could they become permanent residents.

Srur was 14 years and three months old when the two-year “trial” period ended. When he returned to the ministry to ask for permanent residency status, he was refused on the grounds that he was more than 14 years old and therefore the family reunification law regarding children no longer applied to him.

At that point, Hamoked petitioned the district court against the Interior Ministry’s refusal. It argued that in accordance with the law, the ministry should have granted Srur permanent residency when he applied for it the first time. Regarding the two-year “trial” period, Hamoked wrote that “the [state’s] decision to grant children... temporary status initially and upgrade it later to permanent status is a decision that originates in an unacceptable internal procedure... which is not mentioned in the law.”

Hamoked also offered an alternative argument. Srur had been born in Jerusalem and spent only five years in the West Bank, said Hamoked. The center of his life had been in Israel for many years before he applied for permanent residency status. For these and other reasons, the family reunification law should not apply to him. Instead, the Interior Ministry should have applied Regulation 12 of the Entry into Israel Law regulations, the purpose of which was to prevent a discrepancy between the status of a parent who holds permanent residency, and the parent’s child whose birth in Israel did not of itself grant him or her legal status in the country. These conditions fit Srur’s case, Hamoked maintained.

On June 8, 2009, Judge Yehudit Tzur accepted the petitioner’s arguments and ordered the Interior Ministry to grant Srur permanent status. The state appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court.

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