Ibrahim Idris was born in 1967, the year the city of his birth, Nablus, was conquered. In 1994, when the Palestinian Authority returned to the territories, Idris made a significant change in his life: in March of that year, he received the status of permanent resident in Israel and was given an Israeli ID card.

Thanks to his marriage to an Israeli Arab woman, a resident of Umm el-Fahm, Idris enjoyed a bureaucratic-humanitarian process known as “family unification.” In his case, like in thousands of other cases, the wife did not follow her husband to his home in territories, as customary in Moslem tradition, but rather the husband followed his wife to her home in Israel.

In the first year of the current Intifada, which the Palestinians call a “war of independence,” Idris closed a circle. For him, this was an entirely natural closing. His blue ID card had never made him part of Israeli society. Israel had given him economic security, but his eyes, his heart and his ties remained in Nablus.

Ibrahim’s brother, Isama Idris, a senior activist in the Hamas military wing, who was eventually killed by the IDF in Nablus, recruited him to a cell that he set up. Ibrahim Idris’s blue ID card ensured him freedom of movement inside Israel and between Israel and the West Bank. His long residence inside Israel made it easy for him to recruit, so it is suspected, other activists from among Israeli Arabs to the same cell. The plan was for Idris to place bombs in various places. When questioned by the GSS, he admitted to these activities.

Idris is not alone. This phenomenon of bearers of blue ID cards, who have merged into Israeli Arab society thanks to family unification and who opted to deal in terror, is well known to the GSS and to the Israel police. Already back in ‘ 98, the GSS arrested Ibrahim Ugabi, an Israeli citizen and a resident of Lod thanks to family unification, who admitted to recruiting Israeli Arabs into the Hamas military wing. Ugabi was handled by the leader of the Hamas military wing in Gaza, Mohammed Deif, and was to have led a group of suicide bombers from the Gaza Strip into Israel, give them shelter and lead them to the sites of attacks.

For long years Israeli security officials have cried out against this, and warned of a process of Palestinian-ization in Arab villages and of nationalist radicalization among the Negev Bedouin sector as a result of family unification — but the political echelons, the establishment, opted to ignore this, was scared to deal with it.

The public became aware of this issue only after the terror attack at the Matza restaurant in Haifa. The mother of the suicide bomber, Shadi Tubasi, is an Israeli citizen from the village of Mukabla. In 1973 she married a Jenin resident and moved to live in Jenin, but did not give up her Israeli ID card. In 1994, she returned to Mukabla and registered her son Shadi, born in Jenin, as an Israeli citizen. Shadi had absolutely no connection to Israel, except for the technical fact that he was eligible to receive an Israeli ID cards thanks to his mother. Jenin continued to be the Tubasi family’s life center and that is also where the terror attack in the Matza restaurant was planned.

The Fighting Family

The family unification process, which was the result of natural humanitarian needs, has become forfeit. The supervision over the process is inefficient and can be described as being purely a formality. The “gate keepers” of Israel have neglected their job throughout the years. The numbers the Interior Ministry provides are official numbers that do not reflect the real thing. The number of illegal residents who have come to Israel thanks to family unification is unknown to the Interior Ministry.

From 1967 until 1993, there was no precise registration of requests and of implementation of family unification. A cautious estimate by security officials is that since 1967 to this today, about a quarter of a million people have entered Israel thanks to Palestinian family unification.

Since 1993 and until a month ago, around 22,000 requests for family unification were submitted, of which around 16,000 were given a positive reply (the others are not deported, but rather continue to live here). The number of people who came here from the territories since 1993, officially and legally, is around 97,000 people. How many illegal relatives came along with them, live here, and are waiting for permits and certificates in the future? We can only guess.

There is nobody practicing any enforcement in this matter. Not only that, the study of the requests for family unification is one big farce. Ostensibly, the moment an Israeli citizen invites their Palestinian spouse to live with them, a complicated bureaucratic practice is meant to begin, but in practice, no thorough checks are made and only the clerks and bureaucratic red tape made the process lengthy.

The Palestinian comes here with a permit to visit. Then begins the handling of a temporary or permanent permit. At this stage, the Interior Ministry begins to check out the permits: is he really getting married, with who and where. The Palestinians have learned that they don’t have to tell the truth because rarely does anybody check these forms. Who will bother checking, for example, if he is not already married, how many wives and how many children he has. Those whose requests are not answered, can, after a few months, submit their request again. There are also some petitions to the High Court of Justice.

At the same time, the request is passed on to be checked by the police: does the person have a criminal record or any reservation expressed about him by police intelligence. The GSS also checks if it has security information about the person. Since 1996 the GSS has checked 11,000 requests, out of which it rejected only some 5%. If the person’s name does not appear in GSS computers, if he has not been questioned in the past for security reasons, there is no chance that an in-depth investigation will be carried out to discover who the new citizen is whom we are about to absorb.

The GSS does not have the manpower for these checks and they are not high on its list of priorities. This kind of treatment has results on the ground: of the dozens of Arab Israelis who were arrested in the past year and who admitted to terrorist activity, one of five received his Israeli citizenship thanks to family unification.

The police also only check in the files that they have at present, and the police do not know all of the thieves and certainly not all those involved in terrorism. Officially, the police are supposed to deal with illegals. Every day the Border Police rounds up from 300 to 500 illegals in the Galilee and the north, takes them in trucks to an area between Megiddo and Jenin, and from there sends them back to the territories. An hour later, in theory and in practice, they are all back here.

“Every security organization in Israel depends on the check being carried out by the other organizations, and so there is not even one serious check,” says one security source.

Indeed, no one bothers to take fingerprints, photograph them, not to mention put them on trial; they prefer not to deal with them. The result is that when an illegal requests family unification, nobody has any record of him. He can live in Israel as an illegal resident for years, be involved in crime, and the police will have no clue. He will not appear in any archive, not even in the medical records of an HMO. In effect, the illegal resident is a person who does not exist. They exist only in one place, the category of police statistics for unsolved crimes. A large percentage of crimes in Israel were committed by “ghosts.” And so, when a Palestinian requests family unification, he needs to be a really big thief for the police to know of him and the Interior Ministry would turn him down.

After receiving the approval of the Interior Ministry, the Palestinian lives here as a temporary resident. Afterwards he renews his request to become a permanent resident. Once again, the triple check is carried out — Interior Ministry, police, and GSS — and five years after the beginning of the process, he becomes a full citizen. [… ]

Police estimate that there are between 50-80,000 Palestinians and Arabs in Israel illegally, including more than 15,000 citizens of neighboring Arab countries, like Jordan and Egypt, who have settled here. [… ]

During 1999 police caught some 122,000 illegals. How many were tried? Only 350 of them. In 2000, 90,000 illegals were caught, and only 291 were put on trial. The ratio between the number of arrests and the number of people tried has not changed despite the dramatic shift in the security situation. [… ]

Last week the government decided to freeze treatment of family unification requests until the Knesset ratifies the bill relating to illegals and the family unification policy. The bill involves stricter inspection, yearly quotas, turning down those who had already stayed in Israel illegally etc. But it is clear to all: this will not be enough. If the number of illegals is not cut by tens of percentage points within a reasonable period of time, as a national project on the part of the security forces, then every shekel spent invested in the establishment of a separation fence will be wasted.