Israeli law deprives Palestinian Israelis of right to family reunification
Palestine-Israel, Politics, 5/20/2006
The Israeli Supreme Court's decision to uphold a law barring Israeli citizens and their Palestinian spouses from the Occupied Palestinian Territories from living together in Israel constitutes unlawful discrimination that cannot be justified by the country's security interests, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said yesterday.
HRW said that the legislation, the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law (Temporary Order) 2003, discriminates against Palestinian citizens and permanent residents of Israel on the basis of their ethnic or national origin. Palestinian citizens of Israel constitute the vast majority of Israelis who are married to Palestinians from the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
"The Supreme Court has upheld a law that unfairly targets Israeli citizens of Palestinian origin," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW. "This ruling undermines the rights of thousands of Israelis to live together with their families, and the rights of certain Israeli children to live with both parents."
"The law denies spouses from the Occupied Palestinian Territories who are married to Israeli citizens or permanent residents the opportunity to acquire Israeli citizenship or residency rights," HRW added.
"Normally, foreign nationals married to Israeli citizens undergo a graduated process of residency statuses, with security checks along the way, before ultimately being considered for citizenship after a minimum of four years," it said. "If the foreign spouse is Jewish (or the child or grandchild of a Jew), Israeli citizenship is granted automatically."
In a 6-5 decision on Sunday, a Supreme Court panel dismissed a petition calling on the court to overturn the temporary law banning family reunification. The original petitioners, including Adalah (the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel), affected families, and members of the Knesset, argued that the law was unconstitutional in its denial of family rights based on national origin.
"A majority of the justices did find that that the current law violates the constitutional right of Israelis to equality and to family life, including the right to live with a foreign spouse in Israel," HRW added. "However, only a minority of the justices felt that the appropriate remedy was to overturn the temporary law."
The Israeli Ministry of Justice has argued that Palestinians who gained residency status inside Israel through family reunification have been involved in attacks against Israeli civilians.
"However, Israeli authorities claim to have questioned only 26 people who entered Israel under family reunification proceedings on suspicion of abetting terrorism," HRW argued. "It is unclear whether any of those questioned have been charged with an offense."
"The ministry also failed to explain why other more targeted security measures, applied on a case-by-case basis, could not adequately address this threat without stripping thousands of families of their rights on the basis of their nationality," it added.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Aharon Barak, in his opinion for the minority, wrote that "the law is a violation of the right of Arab citizens in Israel to equality."
HRW said demographic concerns also cannot justify the discrimination. The Israeli daily, Ha'aretz, reported that during a special meeting to discuss the law on April 4, 2005, then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon stated: "There is no need to hide behind security arguments. There is a need for the existence of a Jewish state." At the same meeting, then-Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, "Instead of making it easier for Palestinians who want to get citizenship, we should make the process much more difficult, in order to guarantee Israel's security and a Jewish majority in Israel."
"Israel cannot pursue a desire for a Jewish majority at the expense of the equal rights of its non-Jewish citizens," Human Rights Watch said.
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