In the United States, turning 16 is a cause for celebration. At this age, teenagers are typically eager to receive a tangible symbol of their growing freedom: a government-issued license that allows them to drive anywhere in the country. In the Palestinian Territories, the age of 16 is more anxiety-inducing. Palestinian sixteen-year-olds are issued an ID that severely limits where they can go; these restrictions have serious implications for their educational opportunities, career options, romantic and familial relationships, and other important facets of their lives.
This past summer, Fordham Law 2L Meredith McBride observed firsthand how onerous ID policies uniquely impact Palestinian women. As a fellow at the Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling, located in the West Bank city of Ramallah, McBride spent 11 weeks conducting research for a report on Israeli laws and ID segregation. As part of WCLAC’s international advocacy unit, McBride argued that the Israeli ID system violates women’s rights under the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1979 and to which both Israel and Palestine subscribe.
After marrying, Palestinian women traditionally move to where their spouses live to start a family. However, Israel’s Citizenship Law of 2003 prohibits Palestinian spouses of Israeli citizens and of East Jerusalem residents from gaining Israeli residency or citizenship. This becomes problematic when spouses have two different ID cards.
“Palestinians in Gaza are the lowest on the totem pole; they have zero freedom of movement,” McBride said. “West Bank Palestinians can move within the West Bank but are subject to random military stops. East Jerusalem Palestinians can typically move within the West Bank and Israel, but they are not able to relocate anywhere without risking the loss of their ID status. They must live their entire lives in East Jerusalem.”
By contrast, Jewish Israeli citizens are free to live throughout Israel and in 60 percent of the occupied West Bank.
Palestinian families often prefer to live in East Jerusalem rather than the West Bank due to higher quality education and health care. However, since many Palestinians do not have the proper ID that would allow them to move within the various zones, women are often forced to choose between breaking the law or living separated from their husbands and sometimes children. Consequently, many women in East Jerusalem live in fear of being forcefully separated from their families.
While women over the age of 25 and men over the age of 35 can apply for family reunification permits (a type of permit allowing a Palestinian to live with his/her spouse in Israel or East Jerusalem), the application is burdensome, and it must be renewed every year. A timely application is no guarantee of a renewed permit, and they are often denied at random or for seemingly trivial circumstances (for instance, having a cousin or stepbrother involved with unpopular political groups is enough for Israel to revoke the permit). As a result, many women choose to live illegally at their spouse’s residence. If these women leave the house and are stopped at a checkpoint, they may be deported or banned from even visiting Jerusalem.
Additionally, women in Palestine fear night raids, in which the Israeli military forcibly enter homes late at night, interrogate family members, and snap photographs of their children.
“On a personal level, you start to feel the emotional and mental stress Palestinians live with daily. The occupation makes for an uncertain existence,” McBride said of her three-month experience. “Living in Ramallah, I got a sense of how colonization impacts people not just physically but also mentally.”
McBride learned about the WCLAC fellowship at a public interest legal career fair held last spring and earned externship credit for her work. She received funding from the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice.
Through her fellowship, McBride says she was able to put a human face on a seemingly inhuman conflict.
“I went to Ramallah with a much more nuanced view of the occupation; I was interested in learning more about the law. But seeing the occupation firsthand and living the life that Palestinians live, I found it impossible to remain neutral,” McBride said. “We often hear about Israel and Palestine in the news, but putting faces and stories to those people changes how we perceive them. I realized we have so much in common with other people, despite vastly different living situations. I think we all just want to be treated equally.”