Residency and naturalization

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My eldest daughter, Tamara, who studied and worked in the US, finally got her own Israeli-issued residency ID for Jerusalem. It took her seven years to accomplish this feat despite the fact that she was born and raised in Jerusalem to parents holding Jerusalem residency.

What would normally be a routine act is a major hurdle for Palestinians, especially those who reside in Jerusalem.

I have been residing in Jordan for over 11 years now and I can’t get a Jordanian driver’s licence. To get a licence you need to get residency. Ten years ago, I applied for a one-year residency using my American passport and after some paperwork and a few hundred dinars, I got a one-year residency, which gave me an opportunity to get a 10-year driver’s licence. Since then, I didn’t renew my American residency (I was no longer qualified because I had left the US NGO I was an employee of).

I have helped set up a number of media companies and NGOs as an international investor, and because I travel a lot, I never needed to get a residency. The fact that I am married to a Jordanian citizen didn’t help me, nor did it help our daughter. Jordanian law allows citizenship to be transferred to wives and daughters of a Jordanian, but not to husbands or children of a Jordanian woman.

When my 10-year driver’s licence expired, I was unable to renew it because, I had no permanent residency or citizenship. The fact that I am a resident (and not a citizen) of Jerusalem made things worse. This means that unlike my Jordanian wife who has a yellow travel folder for the bridge, my folder is green. This means that I can come across the Jordan River without problems, but cannot legally stay more than a month without having to renew my temporary stay or go back to Jerusalem and cross over again (at a high cost of $100 in permit fees, to be paid to the Israelis every time I cross).

Jordanians refuse to allow me entry with my American passport because they fear that I would lose my rights in Jerusalem. The fact that I obtain a three-year reentry permit to Israel from the Israeli ministry of interior doesn’t help much.

Issues of immigration and naturalization are sensitive throughout the world. In Europe, the issue is the single most discussed in every single country. In the US, a law by the state of Arizona has caused major worries among Americans because of its potential violations of the rights of ordinary Americans who might be asked to show proof of citizenship. But the immigration issue in Europe and the US differs dramatically from that in the Middle East. In Western countries, whose populations are ageing and that are in need of labour, there is a desire to have immigrants to come and work as long as it is done legally. Immigration problems are more focused on economy in Western countries, whereas they take a political/demographic nature in our region.

Israel is conducting a campaign to get rid of as many Palestinians as possible, often using administrative means. Not only is it difficult to get residency, as my daughter’s seven-year fight proves, but such residency documentation doesn’t grant a person a lifetime right to live in his or her birthplace.

A Palestinian from Jerusalem who leaves for longer than three years risks losing his residency for good.

At the same time, and until an independent Palestinian state is established, Palestinians working in or residing in many Arab countries are seen as a demographic danger. In Lebanon, Palestinians are banned from certain jobs and face discriminations at many levels. In other countries, Palestinian men are not allowed to obtain the citizenship of their Arab wives.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which most countries are signatories, states clearly in Article 13 that "everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state". The same article states that "everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country".

Article 15 states that "everyone has the right to a nationality" and that "no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality".

Issues of residency and citizenship cannot be swept under the rug anymore. Attempts to deny residency and citizenship on the basis of national or political exclusion, or demographic purity, are a thing of the past that should not be tolerated in the 21st century.

Respecting human rights requires action on this important front. The sooner these issues are dealt with the better.

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