MARCH 2, 2016
Mike Jalal and Natali Sa’ad are members of the small Christian community of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Palestinian Territories. Though legally married, they are unable to obtain a marriage certificate. Only recently and with difficulty did they succeed in obtaining a birth certificate for their young son, Andrae. The Sa’ads are not alone. Other Witness couples face the same problem. Because the Witnesses belong to a religion that is not legally recognized in the Palestinian Territories, authorities deny them their basic personal status rights.
Lack of Legal Recognition Affects Personal Rights
The Sa’ads were married in Israel by a minister of Jehovah’s Witnesses. However, the Ministry of Interior in the Palestinian Territories has refused to record the marriage because Jehovah’s Witnesses are not a legally recognized religion there. Since officials do not acknowledge the marriage and thus considered any children resulting from the union to be illegitimate, the Ministry of Interior had refused to register them. The Sa’ads and other Witness parents persistently tried to correct this injustice.
Birth Certificate Issue Resolved
In 2014, the Ministry of Interior responded to petitions to register the children. The Sa’ads are relieved that Andrae (born January 30, 2012) has finally obtained a legal identity. The parents of Maya Jasmin, Laura, and Cristian, all pictured above, are grateful, too, that the Ministry of Interior has issued birth certificates for their children, identifying them as “Christian.”
The children now hold proper identification papers and enjoy the same rights as other citizens. Their parents can travel with them across borders without difficulty and can enroll them in school.
Other Personal Status Rights Unresolved
Despite that positive development, authorities continue to deny marriage certificates to the Sa’ads and seven other married Witness couples. As a result, they endure societal discrimination from those who wrongly view them as single persons living together in an immoral relationship.
Because of the government’s lack of recognition, spouses must file income taxes separately and maintain separate bank accounts. In a medical emergency, one spouse is not recognized as having the right to choose medical treatment for the other. If one spouse dies, the mate and children cannot inherit the assets of the deceased. Families cannot bury their dead loved ones in harmony with their Christian beliefs. They must bury them in an Islamic cemetery in an area set aside for non-Muslims.
Efforts Toward Legal Recognition
Jehovah’s Witnesses submitted an application for legal recognition to the authorities in the Palestinian Territories in September 2010. After a delay of more than two years with no response, the Witnesses filed a petition with the High Court in Ramallah, requesting legal recognition. The court rejected the petition in October 2013 on technical grounds.
Since that time, the Witnesses have taken further legal steps and have met with officials to resolve the issue. However, lack of follow-through on the part of government officials has impeded any forward progress.
Philip Brumley, general counsel for Jehovah’s Witnesses, stated: “The Witnesses have been present in Ramallah and in the area for almost 100 years. They are grateful that the authorities allow them the freedom to worship in peace. However, the religious discrimination that prevents legal recognition of Jehovah’s Witnesses should not preclude their basic human rights.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses acknowledge that Palestinian authorities have taken a positive step toward improving personal status rights by issuing birth certificates. The married couples who currently lack marriage certificates are optimistic that the authorities will resolve the remaining personal status issues and ultimately recognize their religion.