Sixteen years after its original adoption, the Israeli Knesset is set to renew the (not so temporary) Citizenship and Family Unification Law. The discriminatory law denies citizenship and residency status to spouses of Israeli citizens from the occupied Palestinian territories, in turn denying cross-border family unification to roughly 30,000 families.
Although the Knesset is not currently in session, it is likely that the Citizenship Law will be renewed in the coming month. The law is generally debated in joint meetings in the Internal Affairs and Environment Committee and Defense Committee. However, is not currently in operation. Thus, it is not clear what body will be responsible for preparing the legislation and when the law will be renewed. MK Yousef Jabareen and MK Aida Touma-Sliman have submitted questions to the Knesset Legal Advisor and are currently awaiting a response.
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 non-Jewish 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.
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 of Israel, denying them the ability to lead normal family lives. Where spouses manage to gain entry, the law keeps them from driving and forces them to pay heavy residency fines, in addition to payments for basic services that the state would ordinarily provide, 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 30,000 Arab families in Israel, not including residents of occupied East Jerusalem, to whom the law also applies.
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 racist 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.
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.
In addition to advocating against the Citizenship Law’s renewal, the Mossawa Center and its partners in the Knesset are working to alleviate the suffering of impacted families, for example, by advocating for the ability of the spouses to drive or to receive adequate and affordable medical care. Our advocacy efforts in previous years against the Citizenship order resulted in granting identity cards and legal status to over 2,200 Palestinian spouses from the West Bank Gaza Strip.
For more information on the Citizenship Law or how you can support us in our efforts to support the families affected by it, please contact [email protected].