A fragmented land and Balkanized people: the impact of Israel’s residency policies on Palestinian families

2010 study highlights human rights violations, ongoing to this day

Since its colonization of Palestine in 1948, the Israeli Occupation has sought to control the movement and residency of Palestinians in their homeland through visible measures, such as checkpoints and the Separation Barrier, and by methodically implementing discriminatory strategies, all with the aim to fragment and Balkanize the Palestinian population or to pressure them into leaving the country.

In light of such ongoing practices, Birzeit University highlights a 2010 study by Wasim Abu Fasha (at the time a researcher in the Center for Development Studies at Birzeit University) and Ayman Abdel Majeed (the Survey Unit researcher and coordinator at the center) that explores the effects of Israeli measures in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) on the integrity and cohesion of Palestinian families.

Despite the fact that eight years have passed since the publishing of this study, the situation remains the same, albeit with increased entrenchment of Israeli policies and their ever-increasing impact on Palestinians, in the occupied territories and abroad.

In a recently published paper, titled “Engineering Community: Family Unification, Entry Restrictions and other Israeli Policies of Fragmenting Palestinians,” the independent Palestinian human-rights organization Al-Haq argues that Israeli authorities have “sought to diminish Palestinian presence through an array of targeted, systematic policies and practices,” which are “part and parcel of Israel’s historic targeting of Palestinians.”

This treatment, however, is not only reserved for Palestinians - whether living abroad or in the oPt - but also includes internationals who wish to visit, live, or work in the West Bank or Gaza. In a statement released in August 2018, Birzeit University condemned the Israeli practices that have led to the denial of entry or of visa renewals for “scores of foreign passport holders, many of Palestinian origin but without residence documents, living and working in the occupied Palestinian territory.” The visa renewals of fifteen Birzeit University faculty members who hold foreign passports were refused or significantly delayed in 2018.

The Center of Development Studies paper titled “Impacts and Challenges Facing Palestinian Families Regarding Residency in the Palestinian Territory: An Exploratory Study with a Gender Perspective” was published together with the Palestinian Women’s Research and Documentation Center. It focuses on the challenges and constraints that Palestinians, whether living in Palestine or abroad, face with regards to residency permits or family unification.

Residency and citizenship in Palestine are controlled by the Israeli occupation authorities whose measures and decisions have created complex residency issues for Palestinians. The forced migration of Palestinians during the 1948 Nakba and ever since, the researchers explain, has “created diversity [in the existing types of Palestinian] citizenship depending on the state [or] political region where they lived. This exceptional situation caused residency problems to Palestinians even inside the Palestinian Territory and dispersed the one family between more than one country or within the borders of historical Palestine (West Bank, Jerusalem, Gaza Strip and Israel). This is due to one or more family members not having obtained Palestinian citizenship (national number/family unification) [because] Israel, as an occupation power, controls the… granting [of] citizenship and [of] residency [permits] to Palestinians.”

“These Israeli measures severely disrupt the everyday lives of Palestinians with residency issues, as their movement becomes greatly limited and familial ties are heavily stressed,” the researchers argue.

The study included 25 in-depth interviews with Palestinians from Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza who face residency issues; the study of five focus groups; and a survey questionnaire answered by 302 Palestinian households that suffer from residency and family unification problems.

The field work, Abu Fasha and Abdel Majeed note, faced many challenges due to the lack of a database for families suffering from family unification issues; the diversity of the cases at hand; the regional distribution of cases; caution and fear among affected persons − especially in Jerusalem − and finally, the difficulty in gaining access, especially to families and persons that live behind the Separation Wall and in certain neighborhoods of Jerusalem.

The true scale of the issue is difficult to assess but became clearer when the researchers presented their surveys and conclusions: a significant number of children did not hold any personal documents while some families were able to see each other only via permits issued by Israel. More shocking still, a number of families were split between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, or the oPt, including East Jerusalem, and abroad.

The study outlined that the impact of those measures is doubled for Palestinian women due to the already limited freedom of movement that they have in Palestinian society. The researchers report that in some cases, women who required health services for themselves or one of their family members had to use “alternative documents or expired passports.”

The responses to the interviews and surveys revealed a palpable increase in interference and social oppression among the women who had residency issues. The researchers cite the women’s forced displacement from their families as the main reason behind the increase in interference. And affected women generally have no discernible way of gaining independence, whether financial or social. “Often, not having an identity card or citizenship might assist in depriving such individuals of their economic, social and political rights, including job opportunities and right to participate in elections,” the researchers explain.

The impact of the Israeli measures, designed to deprive Palestinians of their citizenship or residency status, extends beyond the physical into the psychological. The authors recorded the emergence of psychological issues − such as anxiety, tension, despair, frustration, and domestic violence − due to residency and citizenship problems. 

After presenting their research, the authors made a number of recommendations to assuage the effects of the Israeli measures, mainly: updating the database of persons seeking family unification and carrying out relevant surveys and studies; carrying out lobbying efforts and coordinating between Palestinian and international organizations to present the issue of family unification to international law-, international humanitarian law-, and human rights organizations; organizing legal awareness campaigns for Palestinian citizens on their civil rights and the family unification procedures; and setting up intervention policies and programs by public and civil society organizations to assist families and individuals suffering from family unification problems.