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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Palestinian Residents of Israel Denied the Right to Drive

I must say, when I read about the situation below, it astounded me. Perhaps it should not.

As the United States bickers over driver's licenses for ILLEGAL immigrants, Israel denies driver's licenses for LEGAL Palestinian residents married to Israeli Palestinians (who make up 20% of Israel's population)

Let them drive

Why can’t Palestinian residents of Israel drive despite strict security checks?

Tali Nir

Published: 11.19.07, 00:04 / Israel Opinion

Imagine a father, and imagine a physically disabled son. Imagine the need for physiotherapy, hospitalization, and even just going to the local shopping mall. Imagine that you have to do all that without a driver’s license. This isn’t the case because the father doesn’t know how to drive, or because he is suffering from some kind of disability. It’s not even because his license expired, but rather, it’s because he’s a Palestinian Arab.

In Israel, where any tourist can get a driver’s license, Palestinians are not allowed to drive. This ban is relevant to thousands of Palestinians who are allowed to live in Israel because they are married of Israeli citizens. The reason for this ban is, as usual, security considerations.

Even if we’re able to barely understand the link between driving and security, as well as the more meaningful question of why being Palestinian is enough to designate one as a security threat, we must recall that a
comprehensive solution to the security threat is already in place, even without revoking one’s license: All Palestinians married to Israelis undergo comprehensive security checks every six months as a condition for extending their resident permits. If intelligence information points to suspicions of a security threat by any of them (or their extended family,) the partner is removed from his or her family immediately and sent back to the territories. The security apparatus works all the time.

However, the security establishment is not satisfied with that. It views every driving Palestinian as dangerous. Nationality is the only criteria. The thorough security screening of those who were allowed to live here is insufficient. It appears they forget we’re dealing with people who must live, raise children, and who ultimately have plenty to lose even if they as much as think about making trouble.

Waiting for an ambulance

For example, take the Abu Kaled family from the town of Lod. The father, Nahil, who originated from the West Bank, has been married for 10 years now to Najia, an Israeli citizen. Ever since they got married they live in Lod, where they raise four children. The eldest, who is nine-years-old, suffers from a severe disability and is mentally handicapped. On occasion he needs urgent medical attention.

This is the case, for example, when he suffers an epileptic seizure in the middle of the night. But Nahil is not allowed to drive. This means waiting for an ambulance and paying for it every time his kid has an attack.

Najia talks about the terrible fear and sense of helplessness when her son suffers a seizure, the ambulance fails to show up, and there’s nothing they can do. Besides that, she and her children are deprived from having a normal life. As he’s unable to drive, Nahil cannot find a job. Without the ability to drive, he cannot take the kids anywhere, even though they really want to go on trips or to the swimming pool.

“Children are important for the State of Israel, isn’t it so?” she asks. “So why don’t they take care of my kids too?”

And this is indeed the question. Why? After all, as noted, Nahil undergoes a security check every six months. Besides that, the Licensing Authority can grant Palestinians driving permits on “special grounds.” One would think that this possibility would be utilized in humanitarian cases. However, in this story is doesn’t work like that.

In a hearing last week before the High Court of Justice it turned out that to this day, not even one special permit has been granted. Criteria for special grounds have never been defined.

Tali Nir is an attorney in the Association for Civil Rights in Israel

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