The Knesset will begin debating the renewal of the Citizenship and Family Unification Law (also known as the National Entry into Israel Law) today, Monday, May 29. The law, which the Knesset has approved every year since 2003, effectively denies citizenship and residency to spouses of Israeli citizens from the occupied Palestinian territories (excluding East Jerusalem), in addition to several other so-called enemy states (Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon).
In order to live together in Israel legally, the spouses of Israeli citizens from the West Bank/Gaza must apply for temporary permits. The Civil Administration, however, often denies or cancels these permits, leaving families with no legal means of unification. In fact, just days ago, the Interior Ministry rejected 450 such applications.
As a result of cross-border social ties between the Palestinian Arab communities in Israel and the OPT, the Citizenship Law disproportionately impacts Arab citizens in Israel, denying them the ability to lead normal family lives. Where spouses manage to gain entry, the law keeps them from driving, giving rise to economic strife and isolation, especially amongst women. It also limits access to health services for the spouses and their children, depending on their visa status. In total, the law affects about 30,000Arab families in Israel, not including residents of occupied East Jerusalem, to whom the law also applies.
Affected families suffer disproportionately from poverty. Although research on the economic impact of the law is limited, many impoverished Arab families in Israel (with whom the Mossawa Center has engaged through its poverty alleviation programs) identify the Citizenship Law as the driving force behind their financial hardships.
The Knesset originally passed the law during the Second Intifada as a “temporary” “security” measure. Fifteen years later, the law has proven neither temporary nor necessary for security. Empirically, those impacted by the Citizenship Law do not pose a threat to Israeli society. Nonetheless, the government has shown no inclination to shelve this national/ethnic ban.
While security does not necessitate such a law, the so-called Jewish character of the state does. The public debate around the Citizenship Law clearly suggests that the state’s desire to maintain Jewish demographic primacy is the true motivation for the law’s continuous renewal. By both limiting the number of incoming Palestinian Arabs with Israeli citizenship and by coercing its current Palestinian Arab citizens to leave the country, the Citizenship Law seeks to maintain a Jewish majority. Since the law simultaneously denies Israel’s Arab citizens their basic rights (to equality, personal liberty to maintain a family life, privacy, and due process), the Citizenship Law presents yet another instance in which the state of Israel has sacrificed its democratic character in favor of its Jewish character.
Since its original passage, the law has come under criticism by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Delegation of the European Commission to Israel, the UN Human Rights Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, and even the Anti-Defamation League. Local human rights organizations have also—to no avail—made petitions to Israel’s High Court.
The Knesset will begin discussions of the law in a joint meeting of the Internal Affairs and Environment Committee and the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee today, Monday, May 29. The joint committee will vote on the law’s renewal before the end of June.
Unless the international community takes immediate action, the Knesset will approve the law in the coming weeks. Thus, we call on the international community to act to prevent the extension of this law that not only denies Arabs in Israel their rights as citizens, but denies basic rights to tens of thousands of families in Israel and the OPT. The Mossawa Center specifically calls on the international governing institutions and human rights groups that have opposed the bill in the past to remain diligent in their opposition by making public statements and urging their respective representatives in Israel and Israeli officials to prevent the law’s renewal.
Please urge the members of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and the Internal Affairs and Environment Committee to vote against the law. Click here for the contact information of MKs in the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and click here for the contact information of the MKs in the Internal Affairs Environment Committee.