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Limits on Movement Around Jerusalem Frustrate Catholic Arab Family

03 Apr 2015 – By Judith Sudilovsky

JERUSALEM (CNS) — On Good Friday, Abeer Atallah, who lives in the Arab neighborhood of Beit Safafa in East Jerusalem, was unable to attend a prayer service marking Jesus’ Passion and death in the Old City as she would have liked.

Her husband, Abdullah, could not drive her because he was studying for a university exam. And Abeer could not drive herself. It’s not that the social worker at St. Joseph School does not know how to drive; she’s not allowed to drive in Jerusalem.

Originally from the West Bank village of Beit Jala — a mere 10 minutes from where she lives now — Abeer came to live with her husband elsewhere in Jerusalem when they were married in 2000. That’s when she became an outlaw of sorts.

As a Jerusalem-born resident, Abdullah, 38, has the appropriate blue Israeli identity card; Abeer, 36, does not. Abeer and Abdullah have tried for more than 14 years to make her residency in Jerusalem official, but she has only been able to obtain a two-year temporary residency permit. It expires in 2016 and she must apply for a new permit.

“It is very hard to feel handcuffed and like a prisoner unable to move,” Abeer said in the apartment the couple bought in a housing project at the Latin Patriarchate. “If I want to go to the Old City, I have to think twice about how I will do it. I would like to go, but the [prayer service] starts at 6 p.m. and lasts till late and it will be hard to get back.”

In Israel, where the Jewish Sabbath is observed, public transportation does not run on Fridays and getting to the main road to meet a taxi requires at least a 30-minute walk from the as-of-yet unpaved, unlit, road leading to the housing project.

Still, Abeer and Abdullah know their situation is better than that of others, including a cousin who, they said, must live separated from her West Bank husband. The cousin must travel back and forth on weekends and holidays with her children because the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has not approved a family reunification application. Other couples are reluctant to talk about their situation because they are afraid of repercussions on their permit status.

Because she cannot drive and Abdullah is not home from work until the evening, the couple’s children are unable to participate in after-school activities in the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Hanina, 20 minutes away.

“We can’t do things unless Abdullah is here and that is very frustrating,” Abeer said. “If they catch me driving, I will lose my permission to be here.”

Raffoul Rofa, executive director of the Society of St. Yves, a legal organization which advocates for families with Israeli officials, said government statistics indicate that from 2000 to 2013 more than 12,000 applications were filed for family reunification by couples with one spouse holding an Israeli identity card and the other spouse from the West Bank. He said that roughly half were approved for temporary permits only, while the other half were rejected outright.

As of now, the temporary permit is as good as it gets for the Atallahs.

“There is nothing more; we have reached the maximum,” Abdullah said.

Friends contemplating marrying women from the West Bank often come to Abdullah for advice.

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Tags: Jerusalem Holy Land Christians West Bank Arabs