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Procedure Problems at the Ministry of Interior, East Jerusalem Office

2003-08-27

Analysis and Description of Problem

The Israeli Authorities are trying very hard to implement policies in Jerusalem which aim to change the demographic structure of the city so that the percentage of the Jewish population is higher than the percentage of the Palestinian population. To achieve this objective the Ministry of Interior, East Jerusalem Office is an important instrument in the hands of the Israeli Authority and has full authorization from the Minister of Interior to impose any policy or procedure to support this mission. This office is the only Ministry of Interior office providing services to Palestinian citizens and they are systematically treated as residents in the state who have no legal right of citizenship in their city.

The Jerusalemite citizen has to deal with the Ministry of Interior, East Jerusalem Office in all matters relating to his legal status, starting from birth to death. All necessary certificates and documents such as birth certificates, recording new-born infants on parents Identity Cards, issuing Identity Cards, changes of social status on the Identity Cards, death certificates, travel documents and family reunification must and can only be obtained at this office. Furthermore, many of these documents need to be continually renewed to remain valid. As this is the only office that provides such services to Palestinian citizens in Jerusalem, it has become a convenient and effective weapon of humiliation that is in effect even before a Palestinian citizen is allowed through the front door.

The entrance to the Ministry of Interior, East Jerusalem Office is a filthy gate resembling the gate to a prison and is set up so that Palestinians are forced to wait like cattle in a long crowded line outside the building doors, without any shelter or relief from external conditions including weather and congested traffic. Without a doubt, the problem of the conditions and overcrowding in front of the building constitutes a major issue on the long list of Ministry of Interior, East Jerusalem Office procedures that contribute to the attempt to deprive Palestinians of their citizenship. Also included on this list are many destructive policies related to Residency Requisites, such as revoking Identity Cards of citizens who are living outside the municipality borders and the policy of silent expulsion of Jerusalemites followed in coordination with other Israeli governmental departments like National Insurance Institute, West Jerusalem Municipality and different Tax Departments.

The problem at the entrance is not only limited to exposure and overcrowding - the objectives of which are obvious. This instrument has also increased the role of a group whose aim is to harass citizens. Known by the name " turn traders," they take sums of money from citizens just to allow them to enter the building to submit their applications. In spite of the presence of police and guards, this phenomenon is thriving and increasing daily. These traders have committed crimes including assault, beating, and making threats. Their activities have escalated to the level of honor crimes and sexual and financial blackmail.

Although there is a strong fear among Palestinians citizens to complain, because they are afraid that they may jeopardize their applications, the Israeli police have received many individual complaints related to attacks on ordinary people at the site by these traders. But, the police did not do anything about these complaints, which has raised a lot of doubts and questions. In spite of the repeated attempts to address the problem of "turn" and "overcrowding", the situation is still the same. Even though there were many court rulings that tackled this problem, these same rulings were not implemented or even honored by the parties who approved them. The situation is getting worse every day. The Palestinian citizen has lost any hope in seeing an end to this problem. To change the reality of the humiliating procedures that the Palestinian citizen is exposed to whenever he comes to this building, there have been many attempts to find legal, media and international means. However, the dreadful scene of the gate that all Palestinians have to pass in order to enter the Ministry of Interior offices has not changed. This dreadful situation is further aggravated by the fact that the building itself is inadequate. It is in a poor location and lacks a waiting area or shelter “ especially important during the hot summer and rainy winter months when citizens are forced to stand for long periods outdoors. Moreover, the size of the facilities inside the building do not proportionally fit the needs, neither from the aspect of space or number of employees. Further reflective of the presence of a special policy towards the Palestinian citizen at the East Jerusalem office is that other offices of the Ministry of Interior do not have these problems. Not far away in West Jerusalem, the Ministry of Interior building is also on a street that is full of cars and means of public transportation, but you do not witness any overcrowding or long waiting outside the entrance doors. This issue raises several questions whose answers can be found in the reality of the Israeli policy towards Palestinian citizens in Jerusalem. 1. A Live Picture at the Ministry of Interior, East Jerusalem Office About 150-300 people come to the office every day. Entrance to the building is only allowed though an iron-gate, which allows for about 50 people. Citizens start queuing at the gate in the early hours of the preceding evening although the gate is only opened for the first in line at 7:30 a.m. the next day. There are many citizens who buy their entrance from the "Turn Traders" in front of the building. Inside the building, the number of employees is very small, and there is continuous absence of employees from their workstations. There are only two counters open inside the building to offer services to the huge number of citizens. There appears to be a willful slowdown by employees in processing papers which is confirmed when papers are more quickly completed the closer it gets to the closing hours of the office. Studies show that the percentage of completing papers between the Ministry of Interior offices in East Jerusalem and West Jerusalem is 1 to 21.

2. The Need to Face and Tackle this Problem Voices are heard from time to time from Palestinian citizens, international and local legal institutions and non-governmental organizations calling for a change in the situation and making it less difficult for citizens to process their papers. These efforts also aim at putting an end to cases of crime and violations to human rights and dignity. Achieving a solution requires putting forward a comprehensive mechanism that includes strong participation from individuals, institutions, political bodies and social movements of the local community to create a local and international public awareness in order to reveal the truths behind the real policy and aims of the Israeli authorities in keeping the situation unchanged. Putting forward this mechanism requires large-scale coordination and a search for different means especially legal, media and field in order to form an initiative, regardless of size, to contribute in making a change. The success of any legal and popular campaign requires coordination, exchange of information and roles and identification of the clear objective It is important not to confuse these problems with the many other issues connected with the Ministry of Interior. 3. Proposed Means I. Popular Campaign Peaceful popular campaigns constitute a legitimate means to protest against the policy of humiliation to which citizens are exposed at the entrance of the Ministry of Interior, East Jerusalem Office.

The success of any campaign requires a wide participation of the different sectors of the society. Although campaigns often start small, experience proves that they tend to grow, especially in circumstances where the number of those being hurt is as high as they are in this situation. There are already some individual campaigns going on that have been initiated by a few institutions to reveal the truth about what is happening. The Coalition of Non- Governmental Institutions in Jerusalem launched an initiative in August 2003 to coordinate their efforts in a popular field action expressed by a number of activities including staging a weekly sit-in in front of the Ministry of Interior, East Jerusalem Office building. A popular campaign requires the following in order to succeed: 1. Identifying a specific slogan supported by all participating parties. 2. Local and international mass media coverage of the campaign including inside Israel. 3. Exerted legal effort accompanying each step of the campaign. 4. Activating international legal organizations to provide observers and issues statements about what is really happening. II. Legal Action Legal action produces an important difference in achieving results. Although the previous legal action seemed to be heading towards positive results in light of legal rulings with regard to the Ministry of Interior building and entrance gate, it has become apparent that even though results might be positive in the decisions made by the courts, they fail in the execution. The majority of the Israeli court decisions, especially the one regarding bringing about a change in the reality in front of the building, were not implemented. And even if part of them had been implemented, it will not succeed in stopping the root of the problem.

The situation requires the following actions: 1. Comprehensive review of previous decisions of Israeli courts regarding the subject and following up on what was not implemented. 2. Turning to Israeli judicial courts regarding the issue of the "gate" and "turn" independently and linking them with other issues that are of the same importance like the cases of documents, family reunification and others. 3. Coordination of legal efforts and unification of action to insure the sound follow up and increase the participation of lawyers in an attempt to solve the problem with the different Israeli departments. 4. Coordination of efforts with international lawyers to have effective scrutiny of the performance of the Israeli court in tackling the subject. 5. Collection of data and follow up of complaints made by citizens who were beaten in front of the Ministry of Interior building whether by guards or "turn" traders. Observation of the police performance in these complaints and making sure that those involved are charged. 6. Collection of complete reports from citizens. This might require carrying out a legal survey to reveal facts that will help to support evidence presented before Israeli courts. 5. Conclusions Without a doubt, the issue of the Ministry of Interior, East Jerusalem Offices is highlighted by an overwhelming hopeless and helpless feeling among the citizens of East Jerusalem, underscored by on-going negative experiences and the lack of a sound strategy for change. There is a deliberate policy practiced by the Israeli government towards Palestinian citizens in Jerusalem to exploit the implementation of Israeli laws through the policies and procedures exercised by this office - hiding behind a legal perspective although the truth of the matter indicates that the subject is entirely political. Following, in brief, are our suggestions regarding what we need to do in order to effect necessary change in the procedures at the Ministry of Interior, East Jerusalem Offices: 1. Strengthen the coordination between legal and local institutions in Jerusalem with regard to following up on this issue 2. Put forward a plan, which includes the participation of the local community by involving them in the action of the proposed committees to enlarge the scale of participation and help to achieve concrete results. 3. Document, survey and have a follow up of victims of assault and other crimes. This is crucial when submitting evidence before local legal bodies and possible international courts in the future. 4. Have a fixed slogan for the campaign with all its popular, media, and legal forms in order to unify all interested and concerned parties regardless of their affiliations. 5. Follow up all court decisions regarding the Ministry of Interior, East Jerusalem Office attempting to change the reality and assess their validity and execution.. 6. Put forward a legal plan in order to ensure the sound and correct address of the subject. 7. Identify negligent mechanism in following up the implementation of Israeli courts decisions regarding this issue. 8. Reveal the truth about the policy of discrimination followed in the Ministry of Interior, East Jerusalem Office. This includes the implementation of different mechanisms according to the citizenship and nationality of the applicant. 9. Coordinate with foreign consulates and international institutions that have representative offices in Jerusalem. Escorting them in field tours to let them see and witness what is really going on at the site. 10. Reactivate local mass media first and international and Israeli mass media second to reveal truths and crimes committed at the gate of the Ministry of Interior, East Jerusalem Office. 11. Raise the awareness of citizens about their rights and find viable mechanisms to fight and deter the strayed group of "Turn Traders," criminals and facilitators of corruption within the local community.


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