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Precarious Status
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Personal Story

Denied Status Despite Repeated Attempts, a Mother of Five Lives as a Fugitive and a Prisoner in Her Own Home


When Ayah married Ahmad, she thought she would gain access to the broader world beyond the confines of the West Bank, and she did not anticipate having trouble acquiring the same legal status as her husband, who was a permanent resident of Jerusalem. However, by the late 1990s, Israel had imposed a closure on the West Bank, and Ayah’s brother was imprisoned on political charges, which altered the course of her life. Without an Israeli permanent-resident ID, she cannot even travel 20 kilometers to visit her mother in Ramallah.

Background: Palestinian from the West Bank who holds a Palestinian Authority ID marries a Palestinian Jerusalemite with an Israeli permanent-resident ID (family unification case) 

Status: Has applied and been rejected several times for permanent-resident status

In 1998, a quiet and reserved young woman named Ayah1 made a decision she thought would improve her life: She married a Palestinian who was a permanent resident of Jerusalem. Originally from a destroyed village east of Ramla, Ayah was born and raised in a refugee camp in the occupied West Bank and had a Palestinian Authority ID. She had visions of a comfortable life as a future holder of an Israeli permanent-resident ID—more disposable income, a nicer home, and trips around historic Palestine without the restrictions on her movement that she had experienced as a Palestinian Authority ID holder. More than 20 years later, her experience living in Jerusalem couldn’t be further from that vision.

Ayah married Ahmad in October 1998. She was 18; he was 28. She moved to her husband’s home, located in the northeast area of the city. The newlyweds assumed that getting a permanent-resident ID for Ayah would simply entail going through a routine bureaucratic process, which others had navigated successfully.

In the late 1990s, during the early years following the Oslo Accords, procedures at Israeli checkpoints were not as rigid as they are today, and the Separation Wall had not yet been built. Most importantly, the Qalandiya checkpoint, erected in 2001, was a mere roadblock and not the massive airport-style terminal it is today (see Closure and Access to Jerusalem). There was a checkpoint in Beit Hanina near the Dahiya roundabout but, according to Ayah, it was easy to cross, because the soldiers didn’t check IDs consistently. Until about 2001, Ayah was able to travel between Jerusalem and the refugee camp where she had grown up with relative ease. She was still able to see her family whenever she wanted, and she could go to the beach in Jaffa with her husband.

When asked why she and her husband didn’t start the application process sooner, she said it was Ahmad’s responsibility: “I was ignorant. I didn’t know. I didn’t know the process. No one enlightened me. Ahmad should have been more aware than me. He should have known.”

Applying for Permanent Residency

The start of the Second Intifada together with the proliferation of checkpoints created a sense of urgency for Ahmad, who finally began the process of applying for a permanent-resident ID for Ayah in 2002. He did not hire a lawyer. He went to the Israeli Ministry of Interior office in the Wadi al-Joz2 neighborhood in East Jerusalem to ask about the process and obtain the required forms.

Because Ayah carried a Palestinian Authority ID and needed an Israeli permanent-resident ID to live legally with her husband in Jerusalem, she applied for family unification. The couple spoke to others who were going through a similar process, including Ayah’s sister, who had also married a Jerusalem resident and had started the process of applying for her permanent-resident ID in the late 1990s. The process required compiling and submitting months of electricity, telephone, and water bills; property taxes; and a variety of documents, such as homeownership/lease agreements (see Precarious, Not Permanent: The Status Held by Palestinian Jerusalemites). Ayah was also required to provide information about her parents and siblings.

During the application process, Ayah’s older brother became heavily active in the Second Intifada as a member of Fatah’s military wing, the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. In 2002, he was arrested and convicted of killing several Israelis in the Jerusalem area. He is now serving several life sentences.

Punished for Her Brother’s Acts

Ayah and her sister felt the effects of their brother’s actions: Both were denied permanent residency.3 That same year, Ayah received a written response to her application stating that she would never be granted permanent-resident status due to her brother’s actions, which were detailed in the letter.

Shortly afterward, Ayah and Ahmad decided to hire an Israeli Jewish lawyer they learned about through friends. The lawyer advised them that Ayah might be able to obtain residency if she disowned her brother and committed to not having any contact or visiting him in prison; she agreed. Explaining her decision to go along with this plan, she said, “It was just a statement on a piece of paper. I wasn’t going to do what they wanted. How can someone disavow their own brother?”

Ayah and Ahmad had to pay the lawyer thousands of dollars, which they didn’t have readily available. To pay the lawyer in monthly installments, they borrowed money from a relative, and Ayah sold some of the gold jewelry she had received as wedding gifts. The monthly payments to the lawyer weren’t the only residency-related expense they incurred; other costs included printing/copying a steady stream of documents and application fees. After about two years, the lawyer came up empty-handed, and Ayah got a second rejection letter in 2004.

“How can someone disavow their own brother?”


Repeated Attempts

At this point, Ayah had experienced the constraints of living in East Jerusalem with a Palestinian Authority ID for three years. She couldn’t go into the city center or visit family because of the numerous soldiers and random checkpoints (often referred to as “flying checkpoints” because of their unpredictability). On the other hand, when her brother was arrested, she couldn’t be with her family in the West Bank. “In these times, the separation is the most difficult—not to be able to comfort my mother, my grandmother,” she explained. Her grandmother died, and she couldn’t mourn with her family. She was left to grieve without family support and to forge a new way of being on her own. “Everyone is better near their family,” she says wistfully.

Ayah and Ahmad’s five children, born between 2002 and 2010, are entitled to permanent residency through their father. Until age 16, they are listed on their father’s ID (as Israeli law allows); at 16, they are able to get permanent-residency status without any problems (in fact, they are required to do so).4 The eldest two got their permanent-residency documents when they turned 16. Ayah and Ahmad expect the same will hold true for the other three children once they turn 16.

In 2006, Ayah and Ahmad heard that the Ministry of Interior changes its policies annually, so they thought they would give it another try. For several years, they applied annually. By 2010, Ayah lost complete hope of ever obtaining permanent-resident status. “I stopped asking about the residency. I got bored and frustrated. I lost hope. I have surrendered to the situation. I just don’t want to draw attention to myself, because my stay here is illegal.”

Life as a Fugitive

Today, Ayah’s life is guided by fear of getting caught living in Jerusalem with a Palestinian Authority ID and being sent back to the refugee camp she grew up in and separated from her husband and five children. “I’m afraid to go to Jerusalem. In fact, I fear everything,” she explained.

Ayah spends most of her days at home. Entire weeks go by where she has only ventured outdoors to hang laundry on a clothesline to dry. Other days she goes a kilometer or two away from home to shop. She has to be careful when using public transportation, because Israeli police sometimes randomly board city buses and check passenger ID papers. Once every few months, Ayah’s younger brother helps her obtain a permit from the Israeli military to travel between the West Bank and Jerusalem to visit her older brother in prison. She uses the opportunity created by this permit to visit her family in the West Bank.

While her children are able to receive Israeli permanent-resident IDs, and Ayah is able to access the Israeli National Health Insurance, living without an Israeli permanent-resident ID prevents Ayah from doing many things. For example, on Muslim holidays, her husband and children visit her family in the West Bank while she stays behind, which makes her incredibly depressed. When her middle son went to a special school in the Shu‘fat refugee camp, she was unable to attend school functions and parent meetings, because the camp is behind the Separation Wall, and Ayah would have to go through a checkpoint when returning to her neighborhood. She can’t work or go to a community college/university, because employers and educational institutions require proof of legal residency to complete paperwork to enroll.

Perhaps most insidiously, Ayah’s not having a permanent-resident ID creates tension between Ayah and Ahmad, because Ahmad gets nervous whenever Ayah wants to venture beyond their immediate neighborhood. Sometimes they argue. Ayah holds some residual anger, because she thinks that if Ahmad had started the residency process earlier, she would be like her sister, who still holds a Palestinian Authority ID but was able to get renewable six-month permits that allow her to enter Jerusalem legally. (Oddly enough, the brother who was imprisoned for offenses against the state was not a liability for her as he was for Ayah.)

Asked whether she would make the choice to marry Ahmad again knowing that getting permanent-resident status would be impossible, she quickly said no. “Does anyone willingly choose imprisonment?”

“I’m afraid to go to Jerusalem. In fact, I fear everything.”


Time Line

1998: Ayah marries Ahmad, a Jerusalem resident.

2002: Ayah’s brother is convicted of an act of violence; she applies for an Israeli permanent-resident ID and is denied.

2004: Ayah applies a second time; once again her application is denied.

2006–10: Ayah submits applications several more times; they are always rejected.



The research for this story was conducted in summer 2020. Identifying information has been changed.


Palestinian Jerusalemites who hold permanent residency or are applying for Israeli citizenship are managed by the Ministry of Interior at the Wadi al-Joz office, the sole office for handling such matters in all of East Jerusalem.


The Israeli government often uses different forms of collective punishment toward the families of those accused or found guilty of acts of violence against Israelis: see United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, “Concern about Collective Punishment: New Measures Targeting the Residency Rights of East Jerusalem Palestinian,” OCHA Occupied Palestinian Territory, April 13, 2017.


Children who are younger than 16 carry their birth certificates with them when passing through checkpoints to establish their identity until they turn 16 and can qualify for their own IDs.

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