Received passports, but were compelled to leave their family

The Divided Family Protocol
Families with one Israeli spouse and one Gaza resident spouse face unique problems. Israel does not allow the Palestinian spouses to obtain status or stay permits needed to remain in Israel, nor does it allow Israelis to enter the Gaza Strip. The Divided Family Procedure was designed to provide solutions for this predicament by issuing permits to Israeli citizens married to Gaza residents to enter the Gaza Strip. Each permit is valid for six months, and expires once the holder enters Israel. The frequent need to renew the permits creates significant difficulties for Israeli citizens living in Gaza, as it involves submitting an application, waiting, and arriving at Erez Crossing to pick up the permit. Children in such families are Israeli citizens and may remain in the Gaza Strip only until they turn 18. Choosing to remain in Gaza, without a permit, after that time is a violation of the law.

Yafaa and Amani (real names withheld for privacy reasons), ages 21 and 24 are Israeli citizens. Though they were born in Gaza, their mother is an Israeli citizen, and as such, under Israeli law, they too are automatically considered citizens. Because they were registered as Israeli citizens, they were not able to obtain a Palestinian ID card when they turned 16 and were left with no official documentation, neither a Palestinian ID nor an Israeli one.

Two years ago, the two sisters sought legal help in order to obtain an Israeli passport, as is the right of all Israeli citizens. The state demanded that they undergo expensive genetic testing to prove their relation to their mother. Under Israeli law, to undergo genetic testing requires launching legal proceedings with the Israeli Family Court. These proceedings are lengthy, especially for Gaza residents, who are trapped inside the Gaza Strip, unable to exit. The sisters refused to undergo the expensive testing and asked for Gisha’s help in proving their identity to the Israeli Population Authority. We contacted the authority, and after extensive correspondence, the sisters were allowed to undergo a hearing at Erez Crossing instead of genetic testing, after which, they would receive the passports.

But the story did not end here. Once the sisters received the passports, they had to leave their home and family in Gaza, as Israeli citizens are not permitted to enter Gaza. They cannot visit their parents in the Gaza Strip unless there is a sickness, wedding or death in the family. The sisters left their studies, family, friends and home in Gaza and moved to their mother’s childhood home in Lod.

Yafaa and Amani are not the first to face this difficult decision. They are the daughters of a “divided family”, a family in which one parent is a Gaza resident and the other an Israeli who moved to Gaza. Once the children turn 18, they are no longer considered part of the divided family and, being Israeli citizens, their presence in Gaza without a permit is unlawful. Yafaa and Amani will be able to visit their parents in the Gaza Strip only if there is an “exceptional humanitarian” reason for doing so.

On May 21, 2014, Gisha sent a letter (Hebrew) to the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, asking for a revision in the Divided Families Protocol.