Forbidden Families

Ghassan, the organist for the Arabic-congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Redeemer accompanying worship.  Photo © ELCJHL/Rev. Elizabeth McHanPastor Azar also estimates that another 20 families are “forbidden families.” Since 2002, Israel has refused to issue the permits necessary in Jerusalem when one spouse does not have a Jerusalem ID but they want to live there, or have been living there for years.

For example, Rimaz is illegal in her own home. She was arrested 3 times while pregnant, taken to the police headquarters in a squad car, where she avoided a strip search only when a priest she had worked with came to the station on her behalf. Her crime? Living in Jerusalem with her family without the proper permit. In June of 2003 a temporary order that suspended the issuing of family unification permits was passed, and has continued to be extended and upheld as recently as January 2012.  Under this law, family unification permits are no longer given to those whose spouses are from the West Bank.

Born in Nablus, Rimaz married Ghassan, now Redeemer’s organist, in 1996, when the hopes from Oslo were still fairly high. Almost 15 years, 3 children and 1 intifada later, Rimaz still does not have the Israeli government’s permission to live with her family. From the porch of their home, the house where Ghassan grew up and where they and his mother share the house, the top of the gray concrete slabs of the wall that now separate them from the rest of the West Bank peek out through the trees.

For years their only legal choice, if they wanted to live as a family, was to move to the West Bank. But Ghassan and the three children would then lose their Jerusalem IDs, which entitled them to health insurance and pension which they have paid taxes for as long as they lived there. The rest of the family would then also forfeit permission to live in and even perhaps visit – or work in – Jerusalem.

In 2006, however, Rimaz was granted a 12 month residency permit, which temporarily gave her the right to live in Jerusalem for one year. But even with this permit, she was not permitted to drive her husband’s yellow-plated car, nor to access health or pension benefits, which come with having the actual Jerusalem IDs.