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Palestinian on Hunger Strike in Berlin for Family Rights in East Jerusalem

As a Palestinian NGO committed to the promotion and protection of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), Al-Haq is deeply concerned about Firas Al-Maraghi’s hunger strike that he has been holding since 26 July 2010 opposite the Israeli embassy in Berlin, Germany. Firas, a Palestinian resident of occupied East Jerusalem who is married to a German national, is protesting a decision which was taken by the Israeli embassy to ban the couple’s new-born daughter from being registered as a Jerusalem resident. This decision breaches Firas’s right to live in Jerusalem with his family.

Firas was born and raised in the neighbourhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem to a Palestinian family with deep roots in the city. In 2007, Firas temporarily moved to Berlin to be with his wife, who is completing her doctoral thesis there. Since then, Firas has regularly revisited Jerusalem. Knowing that they would return to Jerusalem after the completion of his wife’s PhD, Firas refuses to apply for any other passport or travel document that might strip away his right to hold the laissez-passer, a travel document issued by Israel to Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem.

Firas has been on hunger strike for 18 days, drinking only water, refusing to end his strike until the Israeli embassy in Berlin revokes its denial of registering Firas’s daughter as Jerusalem resident.

Israel’s refusal to allow family unification is not an isolated case. Since 1967, Israel has engaged in a deliberate policy of reducing the number of Palestinians residing in East Jerusalem while facilitating the increase of the Jewish population in the city. To this end, Israel has used various legal and administrative means aimed at preventing the unification of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem with non-resident spouses and children.

In past, Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem were able to apply to the Israeli Ministry of Interior for family unification for their spouses and children in order to legally reside in East Jerusalem and Israel with their families (a requirement that does not apply to Jewish citizens and immigrants).

In 2000, Israel de facto suspended all family unification procedures, impacting tens of thousands of Palestinians and their foreign spouses. Moreover, since 2003, the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) has regularly extended the discriminatory “Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law of 2003” (most recently on 21 July 2010). This law formally denies family unification of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem with their spouses and children from other parts of the OPT or abroad. Consequently, these families are prevented from living together in Israel and occupied East Jerusalem, resulting in the separation and forced relocation of such families.

In its recent concluding observations, the Human Rights Committee has asked for the “Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law of 2003” law, which is ostensibly a temporary provision, to be revoked. The Human Rights Committee’s concern with regards to this issue stems from the fact that Israel’s ban on family unification is in blatant violation of international law, in particular the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 23(1) of ICCPR states that, “The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.” Israel, as the Occupying Power in the OPT, must respect Article 27 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states that, "protected persons are entitled, in all circumstances, to respect for their persons, their honour, their family rights.”

Israel uses a fundamentally flawed security rationale to justify its illegal policy. While international law recognises Israel's right to protect its citizens, Israel remains obligated to act in accordance with the principle of proportionality. Israel’s total ban on family unification for Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem is not only inherently discriminatory but also disproportionate. Israel’s security rationale is further undermined by the government's clear statements with regard to ensuring the demographic superiority of the Jewish people within illegally annexed East Jerusalem. Israel’s policy of denying Palestinians the right to family unification hinders the prospects of a two-state solution where East Jerusalem is the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Al-Haq (A Palestinian human rights organization based in the West Bank city of Ramallah)

August 12, 2010


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