Following a petition submitted by the Society of St. Yves - Catholic Center for Human Rights, Sister J., who is a nun, member of the Greek Orthodox Church in East Jerusalem, received an Israeli residency status, and was bestowed a legal status for the first time in her 65 years lifetime.
Sister J. was born in 1943 in Lid, at that time a Palestinian coastal town. J. was five years old in 1948 war, on that fateful evening when she and her family were forced out of their home and town, as well as the entire Palestinian population of their town, in the events referred to by Palestinians as “Al-Nakba” events– i.e. The Catastrophe.
The displaced refugee family and many of the townsfolk fled to Jerusalem and settled in it. Sometime later J. joined Gethsemane convent, which, located at the foot of Mount of Olives, was at that time part of Jordan. Sister J. was still there in 1967 upon the occupation of East Jerusalem. Therefore she was counted in the 1967 census upon which residents were granted a permanent residency status.
Having no legal status, and no document to prove it, J. had certainly never left the country and rarely left the convent save for visits to the Holy Places in Jerusalem. For all intents and purposes Sister J. was devoid of any legal status or ‘entity’. Sister J., without an Israeli Identity Card, could not safely visit other convents in the Holy Land and indeed was at risk even visiting the Holy Places within Jerusalem.
In 1997 Sister J.’s convent engaged lawyers who have tried to obtain for her the Israeli I.D. Card that she needed in order to move freely within her own city and to visit other. Her lawyers approached the Ministry of the Interior many times, not a single reply was received. After renewed persistence of her lawyers Sister J. was told to submit a request for an I.D. Card to the Ministry of the Interior’s Office in her neighborhood of East Jerusalem and she complied with the request. Still there was no response and she was again consigned to a state of bureaucratic Limbo.
On November 2001 St. Yves took the case. Persistent requests through regular correspondence to the Ministry of the Interior requesting that the Ministry seriously consider the evidence in Sister J.’s case yielded no response or even acknowledgement in nearly four years of persistent pleading.
In July 2005 we turned directly to the Minister of the Interior at that time to practice his discretion in such cases, he also ignored letter after letter.
In October 2006 the Society filed a petition to the Administrative Court against the ministry of Interior, asking the court to instruct the respondents to give reason to their refusal to issue a residency card for Sister J. in spite of the fact she was counted at the 1967 census in Jerusalem, in spite of her many requests from the Ministry of the Interior over a period of some ten years and in spite of the fact she lived in Jerusalem most of her life.
In the petition we argued that the Ministry had acted arbitrarily and unreasonably in completely ignoring the numerous requests of Sister J. and her lawyers for consideration and clarification of her permanent residency status. Finally it was argued that the Ministry’s refusal even to acknowledge the case or state where the case stood in the Ministry constituted no less than complete arbitrariness and breached its obligation and duty to give timely consideration in matters of clarifying residency status.
In anticipation of the State Prosecutors claim that the Entry into Israel Law 1952 leaves the discretion in the issue of permits to the Minister of the Interior, the Society’s Petition argued that this was not an unlimited discretion but had been interpreted in numerous court decisions as limited and that the Minister must take into consideration humanitarian Considerations as well as the State’s image internationally.
The Court ordered the Ministry to respond to the Society’s Petition. A hearing was held in the Ministry, before the Respondents were to comply with the Court’s order, where Sister J. was given the chance to present documents supporting her application for a Permanent Residency. The Respondents then undertook to give a decision in the Sisters case within 60 days of that hearing.
The 60 days passed and the time ordered by the Court for a full response to the Petition also passed. In fact a full year and more passed and still there was no response or reply from the Ministry of the Interior in spite of the court order and its own undertaking to respond within 60 days. The Ministry of the Interior simply kept foot dragging and delaying its obligation to reply. The Ministry claimed that the relevant authorities haven’t yet expressed their opinion in the matter and were still considering the documentary evidence presented over a year. That evidence included among other things:
None of this proved sufficient for the Ministry of the Interior and only after an extensive search of the archives of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and the discovery of Sister J.’s Baptismal Certificate indicating her precise date of and place of birth.
Finally in July 2008 did the Respondent agree to issue the Petitioner a Permanent Resident I.D. card.