Palestinians without Legal Status

There are between 40,000 and 50,000 individuals living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, who, for various reasons, do not have ID cards that are recognised by Israel no do they have official status in any other country. As explained below, this situation is a product of Israeli policy, and it is Israel’s responsibility to change it.

In the Oslo Accords, the power to administer the population registry of the West Bank and Gaza Strip was handed over to the Palestinian Authority (PA). The Oslo Accords stipulated that the PA would maintain and manage the registry and that it would have authority to issue ID cards and visitor permits as well as to register children under 16 born abroad, provided one of their parents was registered as a resident of the Occupied Territories. However, it was also stipulated that the Palestinians must notify Israel of every change they make to the Population Registry and must receive Israeli approval to grant residency to spouses and children of Palestinian residents through the family reunification procedure. Israeli approval was also required for issuing visitor permits for the Occupied Territories.

In 2000, Israel discontinued updating its copy of the Population Registry and no longer recognises the changes made by the PA ever since. Israel currently allows the PA to register only births and deaths and to replace worn documents. As a result, neither the PA nor the Hamas government can issue ID cards to stateless residents nor approve applications for family reunification.

Reasons for lack of residency status:

In June 1967, Israel seized control of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and declared them closed zones. In August and September of 1967, the Israeli military conducted a population census in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The authorities used this census as the basis for the Palestinian Population Registry. According to the 1967 census, the population of the Occupied Territories was 954,898. Palestinians who not present in the Occupied Territories at the time were not recorded in the census. This group included nearly 390,000 Palestinian refugees. Fifty-thousand of the refugees were from the Gaza Strip, some had fled the Occupied Territories during the war, and others were deported by Israel. Other Palestinians absent from the census were Palestinians who were abroad at the time for studies, business or any other purpose. All these individuals lost their status as residents of the Occupied Territories.

Refugees who went from the West Bank and Gaza to Jordan and Egypt, received temporary travel papers from these countries and used them as a substitute for passports. These documents had to be renewed once every few years.

Status revocation after the census

According to figures provided to Israeli NGO HaMoked: Centre for the Defence of the Individual on 10 June 2012 by the Office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), from 1967 until the establishment of the PA in 1994, the military revoked the residency status of 108,878 Palestinians from the Gaza Strip for one (or both) of the reasons enumerated below:

Remaining abroad for seven years or more for any purpose, including studies or work. This group includes thousands of Palestinians who moved to countries in the Gulf of Persia to work. After the First Gulf War, in 1990-1991, about 40,000 Palestinians born in the Occupied Territories fled Kuwait. When they sought to return home, many discovered that they had lost their residency in the Occupied Territories because they had lived abroad for more than seven years.

Failing to appear for one of the population censuses held by the Israeli military in the Gaza Strip in 1981 and 1988. According to the figures provided to HaMoked, 54,603 Palestinians were stricken from the Population Registry for absence from the 1981 census, and 7,249 Palestinians were similarly removed from the registry for absence from 1988 census. Some of these individuals did not report for the census because they were abroad when it was conducted. Others were in Gaza, but did not report for the census for various reasons: concerns arising from having been previously classified as “wanted”, the cost of the tariff for renewing ID cards, lack of awareness of the obligation to report for the census and renew their IDs. It is known that some residents of the Gaza Strip who were stricken from the population registry still live in Gaza, but have no official status.

Refusal to register children

Israel registers children born in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the Palestinian Population Registry. Until the first intifada broke out, children who were not registered at birth could be registered without any special procedures up to age 16. Children born abroad could be registered up to the age of 16, provided one of their parents was a registered resident.

In late 1987, after the first intifada broke out, the Civil Administration determined that children under the age of 16 who were born in the Occupied Territories would be registered only if their mother had residency status. It also determined that children born abroad would be registered only up to age five, regardless of their parents’ residency status.

In 1995, the Interim Oslo Agreement (also known as Oslo 2) stipulated that the Palestinians could register children born abroad, provided that they were under age 16 and that one of their parents was a registered resident. Given these restrictions, there are children and adults living in the Gaza Strip who have no status: Some of them because they were born to parents who have no status. Others, because, although they were born to parents who are registered residents, they were born abroad and were not registered before the age of five. They remained without status despite returning to the Gaza Strip.

Refusal to approve applications for family reunification and for visitor permits

Since the 1967 census, which formed the basis for the Palestinian Population Registry, the only way to add individuals to the registry, other than child registration, has been through family reunification. As part of this process, residents of the Occupied Territories filed applications for family reunification with immediate relatives who lived outside the Occupied Territories. Most of the applications were filed by residents of the Occupied Territories for spouses who were born to families in Palestinian refugee communities abroad. Other applications were filed by residents of the Occupied Territories on behalf of relatives who had lived abroad for a time and lost their status in the Occupied Territories, or had never had residency status to begin with. While waiting for approval for their applications, couples and other relatives could meet in the Occupied Territories only by way of time-limited visitor permits.

When the second intifada broke out in 2000, Israel froze all updates to the Palestinian Population Registry, with the exception of registration of children under 16 born to a resident parent and certain exceptional cases. Ever since, there has been no regular process by which relatives and spouses of residents of the Occupied Territories could obtain residency status. Israel has imposed a freeze on issuing visitor permits to the Occupied Territories, barring cases it defines as “humanitarian”. Therefore, relatives abroad currently have no legal way of visiting the Occupied Territories.

After the family reunification process was frozen, tens of thousands of Palestinians who had resided in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on visitor permits chose to remain there with their spouses or families despite the fact that their permits had expired, for fear that if they left, they would not be allowed to return. They continue to live in the Occupied Territories without any legal status.

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