Children are often denied access to their families amid controversial citizenship laws.
Qalqilya, occupied West Bank – Khalid Yasin, 25, graduated at the top of his class in high school, but no university would accept him.
Living without citizenship or identification for his entire life, Yasin has become dependent on others for everything – even something as simple as signing up for a phone line.
“It’s like I don’t exist,” Yasin said, sitting behind a desk inside his small shoe store. “I can’t do anything without an ID number. My business isn’t in my name, I can’t go to university, I can’t own an apartment, I can’t even get married legally. I’m not a citizen anywhere – everywhere I go, I am illegal.”
Yasin’s family travelled to the northern West Bank district of Qalqilya when he was four. His parents, who fled from Kuwait in 1991 during the Gulf War, lived in Jordan for several years before receiving permission from Israeli authorities to enter the occupied West Bank.
The family immediately applied for Palestinian citizenship, a bid that took 14 years for the Israelis to approve – and by the end, Yasin, who was then 18, was rejected. Israeli authorities told him that as he was no longer a minor, he had to apply on his own. He has since applied numerous times, each one rejected.
“I live in fear of being caught,” Yasin told Al Jazeera. “There are checkpoints everywhere, night raids all the time. Israeli soldiers are always entering the city and I am always at risk of them finding out about me.”
I can't do anything without an ID number. My business isn't in my name, I can't go to university, I can't own an apartment, I can't even get married legally. I'm not a citizen anywhere - everywhere I go, I am illegal.
According to Imad Shanan, the Palestinian Authority’s interior ministry director of general civil affairs, 576 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank applied for ID numbers in 2015 – all of which were denied. Shanan could not verify how many of those were repeat applicants.
“When it comes to this issue, it is out of our hands,” Shanan said. “The PA can provide IDs only if Israel agrees, and this issue has not seen any progress. We do our best to provide human rights, but in the end, this issue is up to the Israeli side to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’.”
Israel’s Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories Unit, which oversees the occupied West Bank, told Al Jazeera that the Israeli government did not keep records of how many people were living there illegally.
Fed up with the failing bureaucracy, Yasin recently came out of hiding and began telling his story to the media.
“I’ve always been scared of getting caught, and I’m still scared of being arrested and taken away from my family, but I can’t live like this forever – so going to the media is my last hope.”
Three years ago, Yasin took another risk: As his friends were graduating from university, he felt like his life was standing still, and decided to leave the West Bank.
Under Jordanian law, Palestinians in the West Bank can get five-year Jordanian passports as travel documents, though they are still not granted national ID numbers. Yasin’s uncle in Dubai had offered him a job as a flight attendant, and he decided to take the jump. Although Yasin did not have the five-year passport, he possessed a re-issued Jordanian birth certificate and thought that would be sufficient for crossing the border.
“I’ve never flown on a plane, or seen the ocean,” Yasin said. “It was a big decision; I was so scared that once I left, I would never be allowed back in the West Bank again – but I had to do something. My life here was so stagnant.”
Family members travelled with Yasin to the West Bank-Jordan border to see him off, but things did not go as planned. “When I went to cross the [Israeli] border, workers were very confused about my situation,” Yasin said. “Eventually they called over a captain. I explained my situation and he told me that he should be arresting me, but that he felt bad and didn’t want to.”
Instead, the Israeli official told Yasin to go back home, as he could not allow him to leave the country without a travel document to stamp.
Since then, Yasin has thought numerous times about turning himself in to Israeli authorities.
“I’ve been in a lot of situations that were close calls with Israeli forces. I thought a lot about just letting them arrest me to see what would happen, but I have never had the nerve,” he said. “I don’t think about stuff like that much any more, though; that was mostly when I was younger.”
For now, Yasin desperately wants to make a normal life for himself. Since he was young, he has wanted to study journalism, and dreams of travelling to Europe for training and then returning to cover stories in the occupied West Bank. He also wants to get married and have children.
“Everything is on hold until something happens with my ID,” he said.
Yasin’s mother, Amal, hopes that her son – the eldest of five – will one day have a better life.
“I tried to talk him into getting married, but he won’t think of it unless the marriage could be legally acknowledged, because he doesn’t want to put his hardship on a woman and children,” she said. “I never thought something like this could happen to him. It’s an impossible situation.”
Even within the occupied West Bank, Yasin rarely travels. In 21 years, he has been to Ramallah twice and Hebron once. Each trip was nerve-racking.
“I used to try and search online for other people in my position, but I found that most of them were denied IDs because of some political issue,” Yasin said. “That’s so far from my case. No one in my family is political, particularly not me. I don’t follow what’s been going on much. To be honest, I think my problem is just a mix-up in paperwork – a mix-up that is costing me my life.”