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Personal Story

For Suzanna and Khalid, Their Wedding Planning Was Driven by Residency Considerations

Snapshot

After Eastern European Suzanna moves to Jerusalem for work, she meets Khalid and falls in love. When they decide to marry four years later, the plans all revolve around complexities of residency. Once married, they gather the reams of required paperwork and start the process of applying for permanent-resident status for Suzanna. Then the coronavirus pandemic hits.

Background: Non-Palestinian (European citizen) marrying a Palestinian with Israeli permanent-resident status (family reunification) 

Status: Will receive a temporary resident visa once her European Union passport is renewed, which has been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic

Suzanna was born and raised in Eastern Europe. While working for a nongovernment organization in Jerusalem in 2013, she was introduced to Khalid, a Palestinian Jerusalemite. They decided to get married in 2017.

Where to Live?

For most couples planning to marry, the focus is on wedding details, the new home, and their honeymoon destination. But for Suzanna and Khalid,1 their decision to marry involved evaluating whether they would be able to live together in the same country. They couldn’t move to her country, because the citizenship process would require Khalid, a permanent resident of Jerusalem (see Precarious, Not Permanent: The Status Held by Palestinian Jerusalemites), to stay there for a prolonged period, which would mean he could not return to Jerusalem to renew his residency on a regular basis as Israeli law requires of Palestinians; under Israeli law, he would lose his residency status.

The couple decided that they would live in Jerusalem and seek permanent residency for Suzanna through the family unification process. They knew this would be complicated, and they consulted lawyers and did online research to figure out the best way to marry. Suzanna did not want to convert to Islam, but Israeli law prohibits mixed-religion marriages and does not allow for civil unions.2 “With our situation, it was hard to find one transparent, direct route,” she explained.

It took the couple about three to four months to figure out what to do. They ended up spending thousands of euros to get married outside the country, in Cyprus, in 2017. They couldn’t get married in Suzanna’s native country (which she would have preferred, so that she could have family with her), because Khalid could not get a visa. The couple had a wedding reception in Khalid’s hometown in northeast Jerusalem in 2018. They now live there, near Khalid’s parents and siblings.

An Ever-Changing List of Documents

Initially, Khalid thought they could apply for Suzanna’s permanent residency on their own. He decided to go to the Israeli Ministry of Interior branch office in Wadi al-Joz and speak to someone about it. He was given an application, a list of documents to provide, and an appointment date. Two months later, at the designated date and time, he returned with the application and the requisite documents but was told by a different staff person that six more documents were required.

At this point, Khalid got upset and demanded a written list of all the required documents signed by either the staff person or a manager. A manager got involved and provided a signed list.

On Khalid’s third visit, yet another staff person said three more documents were required. Khalid showed her the signed list, but she refused to acknowledge it. “Who you get is a matter of luck,” Khalid explained, referring to the ministry employees. “The Jews are more cooperative and honest; the Arabs make things more complicated. The Arabs work harder to prove their loyalty. The Jew doesn’t have to work to prove loyalty.”

“Every single Palestinian is dealt with in a different way. There are no laws or policies to deal with them.”

Khalid, husband of Suzanna

Enter the Israeli Lawyer

Khalid and Suzanna were given an appointment date 18 months out to apply for residency. They decided to hire an Israeli lawyer who had decades of experience working in the Ministry of Interior and many connections and relationships in the ministry and the government. According to Khalid, the lawyer told him, “Every single Palestinian is dealt with in a different way. There are no laws or policies to deal with them.”

Khalid’s experiences with the ministry confirmed this statement. Khalid and Suzanna are basically paying thousands of dollars for this lawyer’s connections and relationships, along with his assurance that Suzanna would receive permanent residency within five years. While Khalid doesn’t completely trust lawyers, who have a reputation of exploiting Palestinians when it comes to permanent-residency issues, he said his lawyer has been straightforward and has provided updates along the way. Because of their lawyer, Suzanna was eventually able to get an appointment to apply for residency within a few months, rather than 18.

The first time Suzanna had to renew her tourist visa, the couple decided to take a quick side trip to Jordan. On the way back into the country, they were stuck on the border for six hours, because the border control worker would not give Suzanna a visa. It took numerous phone calls and their lawyer’s intervention for Suzanna to get a visa, and the border control worker told her it would be the last time she would get a tourist visa. With their lawyer’s help, she was able to obtain a multiple-entry visa with a work permit, which she has been able to renew ever since. This visa is not available to everyone. It has allowed Suzanna to leave the country on occasion and visit her family.

The couple has spent hundreds of euros and thousands of Israeli shekels on the various documents they have had to provide.

Suzanna and Khalid were able to submit an application in the summer of 2018 through their lawyer. They had to provide numerous certified and apostilled3 documents, along with pictures of the wedding and contact information for Suzanna’s immediate family members. Suzanna also had to supply the names and contact information of any friends from the Arab world. The couple has spent hundreds of euros and thousands of Israeli shekels on the various documents they have had to provide, including birth certificates, a marriage contract, a document confirming Suzanna’s unmarried status before her marriage to Khalid, and a document clearing Suzanna of any criminal history. Many of those documents had to be translated into English or Hebrew.

When the couple submitted their application, Khalid had an interview with ministry officials. They asked him simple questions about the couple’s relationship, such as how they met, how they handle the fact that Suzanna didn’t convert to Islam, whether Suzanna’s family has a problem with Khalid being Muslim, and whether Khalid visited her family. Two facts helped Suzanna and Khalid in this process: They have a long-established relationship that began in Jerusalem, so it is easy to verify; and Suzanna is known to the Ministry of Interior, because she once had a diplomatic passport when she worked in Jerusalem.

While their lawyer has made the process simpler for them, they still fear things going wrong when they go to the ministry on their own. Typically, their lawyer doesn’t go with them when they need to renew Suzanna’s visa; he just calls ahead of their visit to make sure things are in order.

During one of those visits, they didn’t see the manager they usually dealt with. The staff person who worked with them went back to square one, asking questions about their relationship and where they met, requesting a new document, and claiming that she needed to investigate their case before reissuing Suzanna’s visa. Luckily for them, someone in the office created a scene at that moment, so the staff person quickly renewed Suzanna’s visa so they could leave. Later, Khalid told their lawyer what had transpired, and the lawyer said there was no need for that document; in his view, the staff person was only trying to complicate the matter unnecessarily.

The Pandemic Hits

Suzanna was supposed to receive her temporary residency in March 2020, but the coronavirus crisis shut down most governmental services, including residency services. Her two-year temporary resident visa was approved in June, but it has to be stamped in her passport, and the Israeli government requires that the passport be valid for at least five years before it can be stamped. Her passport is due to expire soon, and her embassy is handling a backlog due to the coronavirus pandemic; it could take months before she gets a new passport, which could jeopardize the approval of her temporary resident visa. 

Living in Limbo

For Suzanna, the process has been all about risk management and a need to be one step ahead of it all. “Not knowing is stressful. I assume something bad could happen, and I need to be ready for that,” Suzanna explained.

While the process has been a difficult one, Suzanna and Khalid acknowledge their case has gone more smoothly than most. “When we look at people around us, we are really lucky. There are worse cases,” Khalid explained.

“We don’t have a lot of choices, but I’m still privileged, because I can leave whenever I want,” Suzanna added, referring to her multiple-entry visa. She also cannot lose the citizenship of her native country, which is always something the couple can fall back on if need be.

Suzanna and Khalid have made a life for themselves in Jerusalem, while managing an emotionally and financially draining process to obtain a permanent-resident ID for Suzanna.

Suzanna and Khalid have done all that they can on all fronts. Now all they can do is wait for the different processes to play out.

“When we look at people around us, we are really lucky. There are worse cases.”

Khalid, husband of Suzanna

Notes

1

Research for this story was completed in summer 2020. Identifying information has been changed.

2

The research for this case study was conducted in summer 2020. For more information, see Phil M. Cohen, “Israel’s Undemocratic Marriage Laws,” Tablet, August 19, 2019.

3

Documents authenticated by a country’s ministry of foreign affairs.

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