The National / January 20, 2022
After decades of waiting, Palestinians consider where to visit first.
Confined to the Gaza Strip for more than two decades, Yosef Nassar was unable to say goodbye to his mother as she died.
After finally being given an Israeli ID card, the 67-year-old now hopes he can travel from the coastal Palestinian enclave.
Mr Nassar is one of about 3,200 Gazans approved by Israel to receive an identity number.
The announcement means thousands of people will receive ID cards and Palestinian passports, the Palestinian Authority said last month.
This may allow them to leave Gaza through Egypt, or apply for permits to travel via Israel.
A retired PA official, Mr Nassar had lived without such paperwork because he left in 1967 and worked across the Middle East for more than three decades.
Palestinians who were abroad when Israel conducted a census to give residents identity numbers in 1967, after the Arab-Israeli war, were not included in the database.
“I came to Gaza through the Rafah border [with Egypt] in 1999 and applied for the national identity number for myself, my wife and children and got the approval last month,” Mr Nassar said.
Six of his relatives have died outside of Gaza since he reached the enclave.
“My mother died in Jordan and I couldn’t say goodbye to her, I wanted to feel her kiss and hug her but I couldn’t,” he added.
The situation has also affected his son, Sohail, who was unable to take up a scholarship to study Fine Arts at Pratt University in the US five years ago because he didn’t have a passport to leave Gaza.
The freelance graphic designer has also struggled to find work, because job applications often require an ID number.
“My happiness can’t be described, now it’s OK because I am officially a Palestinian resident,” said the 26-year-old, whose friends came to congratulate him.
“In two weeks I will be handed my ID, then I will apply for a passport and try to leave Gaza for tourism,” he added.
While the Nasser family and others will soon receive their paperwork, thousands more are still waiting.
Gisha, an Israeli NGO which focuses on Palestinians’ right to movement, said it is aware of 6,000 more requests.
“There could be thousands more,” said Miriam Marmur, Gisha’s spokeswoman.
“It’s hard to tell exactly how many people still face this issue,” she added.
Even for those who receive the necessary paperwork, there is a high chance they will be rejected when applying to cross the Israeli border.
“It’s very important for people to be allowed to register and receive IDs, but it’s very important to highlight that the larger problem has been created by Israeli policies which are still in place,” said Ms Marmur.
Mohammed Abu Hassira, 23, applied for an ID in August and hopes to be included in the next batch of approvals.
“I’ve faced a lot of obstacles in Gaza because I didn’t have an ID. For example, I couldn’t buy a SIM card for my mobile or cash a bank cheque,” he said.
Mr Abu Hassira came to Gaza with his family in 2011 through a tunnel under the Egyptian border, during a period when it was difficult to cross without Palestinian paperwork.
Receiving an ID could enable him to be reunited with his siblings for the first time in more than a decade.
“I can’t visit any of my relatives. I have sisters in Jordan, they can’t come to Gaza and we can’t go to visit them,” he said.
Nagham Mohanna – Gaza