by Judith Sudilovsky
JERUSALEM (CNS) – Joseph Hazboun remembers when he could hop into his car in Jerusalem and drive the few miles to the nearby West Bank city of Bethlehem to see his family. It was easy enough, even passing through mandatory checkpoints, that he and his Jerusalem-born wife and children would make the trip at least twice a month.
It has been years, though, since the Hazbouns, who are Catholic, could make the 25-minute drive on their own.
Now the family must take light rail, two taxis and walk across a checkpoint to get from their home in East Jerusalem to Bethlehem. The venture takes at least 90 minutes. The result: The Hazbouns have curtailed their visits to once every several months.
Israeli laws on the book since 2003 strictly limit who can obtain permanent residency status and thus enjoy the related benefits, including driving privileges. The Supreme Court recently upheld the law.
Although he is the spouse of a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem who holds an Israeli permanent resident ID, Hazboun is prohibited from becoming a permanent resident of Israel because he is from Bethlehem. Only those with permanent residency can enjoy benefits of Israeli society, including coverage under the health care system and social security benefits.
Every year the couple keeps close track of their rent receipts, utility bills, school tuition payments and vaccination records. They trek to the Ministry of Interior and then to the Civil Administration in the West Bank to get the piece of paper that allows them to live together legally as a family.
They are among thousands of Palestinian couples who continue living in a state of limbo and uncertainty because they must apply for a temporary residence permit annually.
“That puts us at their mercy as, at any given moment, they can rebuke our residency permit and tell us to go away somewhere. But I have nowhere else to go. Here is where my work is, here is where we have our home,” said Hazboun, 46, who has worked in the Jerusalem office of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine for 18 years. He has lived in the city since he married his Jerusalem-born wife, Rima, 17 years ago.
“I can’t understand what the security threat is to Israel if we drive,” Hazboun said. “This is just another prohibition to make our life in Israel difficult. It is a demographic war. (They think) that if they make it difficult for us we will say, Why live such a life in Jerusalem when we can move about freely in the West Bank?”
Since the beginning of 2012, the Society of St. Yves, a Catholic human and civil rights legal aid center, has taken on 89 family reunification cases like that of the Hazbouns, said director Raffoul Rofa.