Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Will we stay or will we go? Forbidden families in East Jerusalem

By Grace O‘Brien - February 09, 2016
Section: [Main News] [Opinion]

In January this year, Elsa Lefort, 6 months pregnant and married to an East Jerusalemite was

denied entry to Palestine.


Before she was deported back to her native France she was detained for two days by the Israeli authorities who cited “security concerns” as their justification for her expulsion, and degrading and humiliating treatment in airport holding cells.


When the Israeli authorities cite “security concerns” as grounds for deportation it has an existential ring. But it is simply an attempt to deceive that there are compelling grounds for denying entry. However, the only viable threat that a pregnant French woman married to an East Jerusalemite holds to the Israeli nation is a change to the population demographics.


The ad hoc operations at Israel’s borders appear to be a permanent state of crisis management as it routinely accepts and denies access to the oPt with no definite rhyme or reason.


The fact that Ms Lefort was granted a one year visa only two months prior to her deportation, having then passed security clearance, only serves to emphasize the extent of this chaos.


This arbitrary denial of Ms Lefort’s entry effectively dictates a choice for her and her husband between living apart as a family unit or the possible revocation and denial of her husband and child’s Jerusalem residency.


This indirectly devises a means of “quiet deportation” and unmasks one rationale behind the escalade of discriminatory residency laws that currently preside over East Jerusalemites.


Ms Lefort’s husband comes from the occupied territory of East Jerusalem and holds the precarious status of permanent resident of the State of Israel. This residency status is considered temporary under Israeli law and can be revoked if certain conditions are not complied with, despite it being his place of birth.


Naturalization of his wife and expectant child is an inaccessible privilege, and consequently their right to exist as a family unit is at the fanciful whim of the Israeli authorities.


Given that Israel maintains complete control over Palestinian borders, the Ben Gurion airport security rooms are fast becoming a beaten track for spouses and family members of Palestinians, like Ms Lefort, attempting to enter the Occupied Palestinian Territories (oPt).


These family members are often then arbitrarily designated enemies of the state without having committed a single act worthy of deportation and expulsion. While Israel is entitled to regulate entry and the stay of foreigners in its territories, this right is being abused and being used as a tool to alter the Palestinian population of Jerusalem.  


Unlike citizenship, permanent residency is not automatically conferred to the holder's children.  If Ms Lefort’s child is born outside the boundaries of the municipality of Jerusalem, or Israel, Ms Lefort and her husband must follow a family unification procedure where Ms Lefort’s husband, as the resident parent, has to prove his “centre of life” is in Jerusalem.


This “Centre of life” policy places a burden of proof on Palestinians to show that their day-to-day life takes place in the city. If Ms Lefort’s husband is forced to leave the country to exist within the family unit, he will not be able to prove that his life is centred in Jerusalem and consequently will not be able to obtain residency for his child. If the child reaches 14 years, and has not obtained residency, the child will be denied the right to obtain permanent residency and consequently any social rights.


Revocation of Jerusalem residency status is considered when persons become naturalized or is granted residency status in other countries, or when they leave East Jerusalem for more than seven years without returning. If Ms Lefort’s husband is forced to leave the region he risks losing Jerusalem residency rights.


These discriminatory laws coupled together with the Right to Return, which allows the Jewish diaspora the right to gain citizenship in Israel regardless if they hold any other citizenship or have been naturalized in another country, have led to shift in the population demographics of East Jerusalem.


Ethnic cleansing is the practice of removing people who belong to an ethnic group that is different from the ruling group in a country or region; and when you unravel the impact of the East Jerusalem residency laws, they represent a manufactured product of just that.


Jerusalem seems to be the golden chalice of Israel’s exploits in the occupation of Palestinian land, and this desire to annex the city as a sovereign part of Israel was formally enshrined in law in 1980 with the passing of the Jerusalem Law declaring a "complete and united" Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.


The law has however been declared null and void by the UN General Assembly, and this self-declared ownership of East Jerusalem has not been recognised by the majority of UN member states or international organisations.


In the absence of any international recognition of Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel, the “silent transfer” of the current and future Palestinian population is one certain way of maintaining effective control over the city by what appears to be no more than a frenzied method of population control.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the Palestine Monitor’s editorial policy.  


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