You didn’t win Arab Idol? Kindly wait a few more years

Israel approves Arab Idol winner Muhammad Assaf’s request to change his residency to the West Bank without a hitch. Meanwhile, over 500 Palestinian residents of the West Bank are still waiting in fear. 

By Itamar Sha’altiel

You didn’t win Arab Idol? Kindly wait a few more years
Palestinian Mohammad Assaf, singing in ‘Arab Idol (Screenshot)

More than 500 Palestinian residents of the West Bank are waiting today, just like they were yesterday. Some are afraid to leave their homes, others avoid crossing Israel’s checkpoints.

They know that if a soldier happens to check their ID card, they might be removed to Gaza. The fact that they have family or a job in the West Bank won’t matter. The fact that they’ve lived in the West Bank for many years also won’t matter. And the fact that no security related allegations have been made against them won’t matter. The only thing that will matter is that their ID card says they live in Gaza, so Gaza is where they will go.

In 2011, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced to the Quartet that as part of a ‘gesture’ to the Palestinian Authority, the addresses of 5,000 Palestinian residents would be updated from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank. Since Israel controls the Palestinian population registry, any change in these records requires Israel’s approval. And since Palestinians who reside in the West Bank but whose registered address is in Gaza may be removed to Gaza, this gesture, if fulfilled, promised to improve the lives of thousands of Palestinians, protecting their residency rights and their ability to move freely throughout the West Bank, if not also abroad and into Israel.

The thing is, only 2,795 applications were approved between April 2011 and July 2012. When children are included in the total figure of the applicants, the tally is 4,241. So far, 461 applications have been rejected and 523 are still pending. Most of these applications were filed two and a half years ago. There are still 2,200 “places” left in the gesture.

So, that leaves 523 people who have been waiting for an answer for over two years. However, at least a few individuals have had their applications for a change of address approved much more quickly and easily. It was announced this week that the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) had approved the request of Muhammed Assaf, the Palestinian winner of Arab Idol, and his family to move from Gaza to the West Bank.

As far as we know, not a single Palestinian resident, other than Assaf and his family, has been granted a change of address since July 2012. In the meantime therefore, more than 500 others continue to wait for a response.

Itamar Sha’altiel is the new media director at Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement.