Israel’s new family unification approvals bring hope to thousands of Palestinians

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Stuck in Gaza for the past 15 years, Munir Hamo may soon be able to reunite with his wife and six children in Jordan.

He is one of some 5,000 Palestinians who received rare Israeli approval earlier this month to be included in the Palestinian population registry, making them eligible for official documents such as Palestinian passports.

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Under interim peace deals with the Palestinians in the 1990s, Israel, which captured the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 Middle East war, controls the registry. It described the new registration approvals as a humanitarian gesture.

“I haven’t seen my children in 15 years. My sons and daughter got married, and I wasn’t able to attend their weddings,” Hamo said.

His long period in limbo began after he left Gaza for Jordan in 1981, a move which he said effectively led to his loss of permanent residency in the Palestinian coastal enclave occupied by Israel.

In 2006, a year after Israel pulled its troops and settlers out of Gaza, Hamo received a temporary travel pass issued by the Palestinian Authority to visit his ailing mother in the territory.

But he found himself trapped when both Israel and Egypt, citing security concerns, tightened travel restrictions on Palestinians at their borders with Gaza, controlled since 2007 by Hamas Islamists.

Hamo said he tried several times during the years to leave via Egypt’s Rafah border crossing, but was refused passage.

In 2012, when Egypt briefly eased travel through Rafah, Hamo made it as far as the Jordanian border. But without a valid passport or identification papers, Jordan refused him entry, he said, and he returned to Gaza.

Now 58, Hamo, a retired civil servant, said he is eagerly waiting for his travel and identification documents to be issued.

“I felt as happy as a prisoner serving a life sentence who just learned he got an early release,” he said in his house in Gaza’s Bureij refugee camp.

Palestinian advocacy groups estimate that around 20,000 people in the West Bank and Gaza are still undocumented, unable so far to obtain formal residency.

Israel suspended population registry approvals, affecting family reunification, when the Palestinian uprising erupted in 2000. It granted some 32,000 permits in 2008 and 2009 but had largely frozen the process, save for a smattering of humanitarian cases, since then.

In Gaza, Eyad Nasser, the Palestinian Authority’s local director of the civil affairs department, told Reuters it is “working hard” to seek additional Israeli approvals.

In Gaza’s Magahzi refugee camp, Samir Shannah, 51, said he has been waiting for 21 years to leave. Born to a Palestinian father in Kuwait, where he could not obtain citizenship, he entered Gaza in 2000 on temporary papers and needs Palestinian identification documents to travel outside the territory.

“It is tough when you can’t leave the place, either for medical treatment or study,” Shannah, an accountant, said. “You sit in place awaiting God’s mercy.”


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