Stateless Persons in Israel

"My question to you tonight is

what is your mind's immigration policy?
Do you detain foreign thoughts
that may have entered your mind illegally
against the wishes of your parents, pastors, teachers, leaders, or perhaps simply against the security
of your own comfort?

Are there other thoughts
that you have perhaps allowed to go unchecked, unquestioned because they seem aligned
with your so-called identity?

Are you certain that you are not a victim
of identity fraud?"

(Saul Williams, Beliefs are the Police of the Mind)

A baby is born and is almost instantly registered in the population registry of his/her country of birth. In Israel babies that are born to citizens of the country conduct their first bureaucratic act while still at the hospital: they receive, almost automatically, their ID number and become little citizens of the state. As years go by, what might go so wrong as to lead to a loss of citizenship and the fundamental rights of that baby? What happens when a baby is not granted a permanent status in his/her country of birth or in the country of birth of his/her parents?

The answers are closely linked to the notion of the nation-state, upon which the modern concept of citizenship is based. We take our status for granted, that number which identifies us and entitles us to certain rights, but the bureaucracy upon which we lean is greatly affected by the political struggles raging underneath its surface. The Soviet Union and Yugoslavia dissolved, and hundreds of thousands of people who registered as citizens at birth, found themselves without any citizenship; Koreans who remained in Japan after the latter lost its control over the first remained without citizenship, but received a residency permit, with which - since 2010 - they are not allowed to enter South Korea; following the foundation of the State of Israel and due to registration problems during the time of the British mandate, the state didn't regulate the civil status of some of the Beduin residents of the Negev, who remained stateless; these are but a few examples. According to the UN, approximately ten million people are defined today as stateless. The shaky sensitivity between the imagined order of the political bureaucracy and the chaos in the political struggles during an age of perpetual migration, creates extreme situations that are well known to those dealing with the burdensome mission of migration and status issues in Israel, and in general.

In 1954 Israel joined the Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, and signed the  1961 Convention Relating to the Reduction of Statelessness, but didn't ratify it. The conventions conclude that their member states shall treat stateless persons indiscriminately, enable them to work in reasonable conditions, and grant them the rights to education and social security. The Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons even recommends that the state hastens their integration and naturalization processed. In practice, the treatment of Israeli authorities of stateless persons is lacking, to say the least. Not only does Israel not treat stateless persons properly and doesn't work towards minimizing the phenomenon, in many ways it even contributes to its constitution, as will now be described.  

Up until 2007, there was no known way of dealing with stateless persons. After a prolonged struggle of the Association for Civil Rights, and feet dragging by the interior ministry, in 2007 a set of rules had been published, which determines that only those in custody are permitted to use it in order to submit a request to regulate their status.  

After the procedure was overruled in the framework of court discussions, the Population, the Population and Immigration Border Authority stalled for six years on and only in 2012 did it publish its "Procedure for Treating Persons Claiming the Status of Statelessness". However, the treatment of stateless persons as reflected from this procedure is highly problematic and lacking, for two key reasons:  

First, the procedure applied only to those who entered Israel "through an international border crossing". In this the procedure is excluding many populations: Beduin residents born in Israel but whose status or that of their parents had not been settled since the days of the British mandate, leaving them stateless; children of residents or citizens of the state did not register for various reasons; those who entered Israel through uncontrolled border crossings, such as asylum seekers who have entered through Egypt; Palestinians, as defined in the Citizenship and Entry Law (Temporary Order), that is those who registered in the occupied territories or even those who lived in the occupied territories without registering with the population registry. In fact, the procedure is "tailored" only for those who were previously holders of some citizenship, which means: when there's some kind of chance to expel them. This artificial division within the population of stateless persons is highly problematic from the perspective of international law, and from the typology of the excluded populations, its political-demographic purpose is easily detectable.

Second, it is doubtful whether the treatment of stateless persons which the procedure does apply to is in line with the standards set on international treaties and conventions to which Israel is signatory. The procedure determines that after a stateless person submitted her request along with many documents (assuming she has them), she would have to wait at least one year until receiving a temporary visa to legally reside in Israel. Furthermore, this visa - for residency and work permit type B/1, shall be provided exclusively based on the considerations of the director of visas and foreigners at the population authority. In case that senior bureaucrat inclined to approve the request, the procedure states that the stateless person must turn for an additional ten years, every year? In order to renew his/her permit, which doesn't grant any social rights anyway.

Only following 11 years from the time of submitting the request, the stateless person will be able to apply for temporary residence (which guarantees social rights) based on humanitarian considerations, which may or may not be approved by the Director of the Population Authority. Even then - efforts by authorities to locate a place to which she may be expelled to will persist. The procedure does not set any clear horizons to permanently settling the status of the stateless person, thereby contributing to further instability in her world.

There is no doubt that the state may and should examine the particular and intricate situation of every stateless person before granting him/her permanent status, but leaving stateless persons for at least 11 years without social rights and with no clear plan to settle the matter is a frugal and inhuman arrangement, which is not consistent with the state's commitments and the treaties and conventions it is signatory to.

The case of R', treated by Adv. Tal Hassin, Director of the Public Hotline on the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, demonstrates the Kafkaesque manner in which stateless persons are treated in Israel. R', age 35, was born in 1980 in Armenia, then a part of the Soviet Union. Aged four, after living without a father since infancy, he was transferred to an orphanage and ever since has not met his mother. Aged 12c representatives of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem arrived at the orphanage, and he was taken to the theological seminar in Jerusalem. R' was an outstanding student and sensed that the level of studies was low and sought returning to Armenia, but was convinced by teachers and friends to remain in Jerusalem. After years of feeling out of place, he decided to escape and start life anew. When he left the seminar it became clear that the patriarchate, which was responsible for renewing his visa at the interior ministry did not bother to replace his Soviet passport with an Armenian one. Since the USSR dissolved and the matter was not sorted out on time, he remained stateless. R' tried to sort out his status in Israel in various ways throughout the years, and his case even made it to the Supreme Court, but the state refused to do so. Eventually in May 2014 his request was submitted according to the stateless persons protocol. R' handed in documents to the Population Authority, which he worked hard to get and which clearly attest that he does not appear in Armenia's population registry. Nevertheless, following almost 18 months from the time of submission to date, he did not receive even the B/1 visa, initially granted by the protocol. A 35 years old man, who was raised in Israel with no parents since he was 12, a gifted man who commands four languages, is stuck. The state, which pledged to the international community to take care of him and similar cases - treats him like a parasite.    

An additional problem in the way the state treats stateless persons concerns the residents of East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights and their special status. After Israel occupied Easy Jerusalem and the Golan, it granted its residents permanent residency according to the Law of Entry to Israel (although they clearly did not enter Israel, but Israel rather entered their territories). 18 years following the war, a clause was added to the rules of entry to Israel, which states that permanent residency "expires" in cases of people who live outside of the country after seven years. This clause is blind to the question whether that person received permanent residency or citizenship elsewhere during that time. In the past years the interior ministry adopted an expansive interpretation of these rules, and a harsh policy towards East Jerusalemites who lived abroad for more than seven years. This policy creates highly extreme human situations. So was the case of Tamam Zubaidi and her daughter Kenza, whose story was covered in the Haaretz newspaper last year, and whose case is still being legally treated. Tamam and Kazna joined the family's father, who is not an East Jerusalem resident, for his PhD studies in Canada. They renewed their travel documents at the Israeli consulate every year, and received temporary permits from Canada as accompanying a student. In 2014, seven years into the father's studies, when they came to the consulate to renew their traveling documents, they discovered that there is a problem. Only when they turned to the treatment of Adv. Adi Lustigman, did the interior ministry convey that it considers them as having an "expired" status. So they remain without a status in Israel as well as in Canada, which refuses granting them a visa so long as they do not have a valid travel document. To this day they live in Canada without a visa, with no medical insurance, with no legal option to work, under constant threats of disrupting the daughter's school studies. The State of Israel dismisses Tamam and her daughter, only since according to its interpretation it is entitled to revoke their status, and continues to defend that position in court. In doing so the State of Israel operates in compete contrast to its international commitments, while Tama and Kazna remain stateless.

The truth must be told - the State of Israel would not have addressed the issue of stateless persons had it not been for the petitions to the Supreme Court on the matter, just as with numerous other issues related to status and migration to Israel. The Jewish nation state avoided proactively dealing with these affairs, apart from when aiming to minimize migration (The Citizenship and Entry Law to the Palestinians, the Temporary Order in the Anti Infiltration Law for asylum seekers). The radical case of stateless persons demonstrates the need of the State of Israel for a comprehensive and humane immigration policy that is in accordance with the international commitments it took on upon itself. It has turned into somewhat of a cliche by now, but facing the current waves of refugees from Africa and the Middle East, the State of Israel must recall the history that led to its own establishment.