Israeli Policies in East Jerusalem Are Harming Palestinian Women

Independence Day celebrations took place this year in the shadow of the threat of the government’s planned judicial shakeup and deep concern for the future of human and civil rights in Israel.

This concern is especially great with regard to women’s rights. The story of Muna (not her real name), a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem, exemplifies the way women suffer in places where human rights are no longer an absolute value. Thousands of other women in East Jerusalem are in a similar situation, as was reported by Noa Limone in Haaretz’s Hebrew edition earlier this month.

Muna was pregnant and decided to give birth at Jerusalem’s Hadassah University Hospital, Mount Scopus, because she feared her fetus might have a heart defect and felt that Hadassah could give her and her baby the best care. But when she went to the hospital to register for birth a few weeks before her due date, she discovered that in order to do so she had to give the hospital a check for 16,000 shekels ($4,400) as a deposit. This demand stemmed from the National Insurance Institute’s claim that her status as a Jerusalem resident had to be reviewed because her husband is a resident of the West Bank. The investigation takes three to four months. In other words, it would finish long after she expected to give birth.

After clearing a series of bureaucratic obstacles that involved bouncing between the hospital and the NII office in East Jerusalem with bank statements, pay stubs and other documents, and even a home visit from NII inspectors, who peered into her refrigerator and questioned her neighbors, Muna was ultimately forced to give birth in an East Jerusalem hospital instead, despite her fear that this hospital wouldn’t be able to properly treat her newborn. Even though she is a Jerusalem resident who pays taxes and has health insurance, she couldn’t risk the chance that she wouldn’t get her money back; recall that the poverty rate in East Jerusalem is around 80 percent. Yet the harassing phone calls from the NII continued even while she was in labor.

Palestinians in Jerusalem live under the threat that their residency could be revoked at any moment, and every attempt to exercise their basic rights is conditioned on a new examination of whether the “center of their life” is in the city. According to the Maan workers’ association, Palestinians are often stripped of their residency even if they don’t demand their rights and without any investigation. And once they lose residency, they also lose many other rights.

The outrageous practice of refusing to register the birth of children born to Palestinian women from East Jerusalem without prior payment of their hospital expenses, just because their husbands aren’t Israeli, is just one example of how Israeli policy in the city’s eastern portion first and foremost harms women. This is massive, intolerable bureaucratic violence that leads in practice to depriving the mother and her newborn of their fundamental right to medical treatment.

The battle for Israel’s democracy won’t end if legislation to weaken the Supreme Court is shelved; it also requires a long list of fundamental changes in the status of Palestinian residents, their rights and the way the state treats them.