When you ask Google how to prepare for your first birth, the answers are varied, but none of them include the excruciating bureaucracy that Ahlam (pseudonym), an East Jerusalem resident, had to endure a month before her long-awaited due date. Ahlam is not the only one. This is the torturous path that every woman married to a West Bank resident has to go through when she is about to give birth.
Ahlam works two jobs in Jerusalem and pays taxes in Israel, including for social security and health insurance. Ahead of the expected birth, Ahlam attended a childbirth preparation course, toured delivery rooms and decided to give birth at the Hadassah Medical Center on Mount Scopus.
In the eighth month of her pregnancy, as she was going through registration procedures, Ahlam discovered she must leave a security deposit of approximately NIS 16,000 ($4,500) for hospitalization expenses in case the National Insurance Institute (NII) does not cover them.
This request was unexpected and it made Ahlam nervous and frustrated. Israeli women are not requested to deposit any money. Ahlam learnt that because she is married to a West Bank resident, the NII would conduct a comprehensive check to verify if she were entitled to the benefit. Ahalm was told, this process would take about three months which meant that she might be requested to actually pay the deposit of 16,000 NIS.
This NII’s check on woman before it approves maternity benefits and funding of hospitalization expenses is a standard procedure when a woman is married to a non Israeli. Yet for Palestinian women the situation is different. A non-Palestinian spouse of an Israeli woman can move to live in Israel and obtain residency. This option is denied to women from EJ who marry West Bank residents. For demographic reasons Israel hardly grants family unifications to Palestinians. This is why numerous women whose center of life is Jerusalem must prove time and time again – each time for a different purpose – that they do live in the place where they live. Although the NII knows Ahlam works two jobs in Israel and pays insurance premiums (since these details are reported directly to it by the employers), this was not enough.
Moreover, to check the center of an Israeli woman’s life, the NII can employ investigators to visit her home and verify her residence. In East Jerusalem, the NII is in no hurry to send investigators, sometimes on the grounds that they would be put in danger, and the procedure can thus take an inordinate amount of time after a woman has already given birth. The woman is forced to live with this stress, having made a high financial deposit (especially when accounting for the high poverty level in East Jerusalem).
Ahlam wanted very much to give birth at the Hadassah Medical Center. She had a good impression of the delivery rooms, while preliminary tests raised fear of a heart defect in the fetus, and she wanted to give him the best medical care. Yet the demand for such a deposit led her to give birth at St. Joseph’s Hospital, where they agreed to accept a deposit of only NIS 5,000.
Ahlam arrived at the East Jerusalem office of MAAN in the middle of this bureaucratic hell. MAAN’s inquiries with the NII led to an accelerated investigation. A day before the birth, an NII investigator came to her home and a few days later, Ahlam’s residency was confirmed and with it her right to coverage of hospitalization expenses and a maternity grant. Her deposit was also returned to her.
With this, the fact that a woman giving birth must cope with the uncertainty of her medical rights being fulfilled, to ignore medical considerations of her baby’s welfare and to choose a place of birth based on financial ability alone, is extremely serious and constitutes intolerable discrimination.
Unfortunately, this bureaucracy hurts the weakest: Palestinian women. Although this is a common problem, it seems that the National Insurance Institute does not take adequate measures to inform the relevant population, in the Arabic language, about the required procedure and the time it takes.