Israel doubles down on apartheid

Palestinians demand family unification in front of UNSCO headquarters in Gaza City, November 2021.

Youssef Abu Wafta APA images

Israel is doubling down on its apartheid rule over Palestinians while it and its international accomplices attempt to fend off the label.

This week, Israel reinstated a ban on Palestinian family unification as part of its demographic engineering efforts to ensure a Jewish majority in the territory of historic Palestine.

Adalah, a group that advocates for the rights of Palestinians in Israel, said that the legislation is “one of the most racist and discriminatory laws in the world, and must immediately be repealed.”

The “Citizenship and Entry into Israel” order prohibits Israel’s interior minister from granting residency or citizenship to Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza who marry citizens of Israel.

According to Adalah, which will challenge the law at Israel’s high court, “it also bans unification between a citizen or resident of Israel with spouses from ‘enemy states,’ including Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Iran.”

Adalah added that “UN human rights bodies have called on Israel to revoke the ban on Palestinian family unification as it violates international law.”

Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, has renewed the temporary order banning family unification 21 times over the past 18 years, the rights group added.

However, unlike in the past, the current version of the law “explicitly states that its purpose is to ensure a Jewish demographic majority,” Adalah said.

Israeli lawmakers and Ayelet Shaked, the state’s interior minister, have said that the legislation is intended to prevent Palestinians from gradually returning to their homeland.

Demographic engineering is also informing Israel’s policy on refugees fleeing the violence in Ukraine.

On Sunday, Shaked said that the influx of mostly non-Jewish Ukrainians fleeing to Israel “cannot go on.”

“Anyone with a brain understands that we can’t continue at this rate of entry,” Shaked added.

Demographics obsession

Israel’s obsession with demographics is nothing new.

It has prevented millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants from exercising their right to return to lands from which they were forcibly displaced on the basis that they are not Jewish.

Shaked acknowledged the apartheid nature of the family unification law by tweeting that its approval was a victory for “a Jewish and democratic state” and a loss for “a state of all its citizens.”

Israel’s nation-state law, passed in 2018, stipulates that “the right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.

Stateless Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza face similar restrictions, with Israel refusing to confer residency status to foreign nationals who are married to Palestinians living in those territories. Jewish settlers face no such restrictions.

Amnesty International highlights Israel’s “denial of nationality, residence and family life” in its recent report finding that Israel practices apartheid against Palestinians.

The suspension of family unification procedures in the West Bank and Gaza affects tens of thousands of foreign nationals married to Palestinians.

Meanwhile, Israel prohibits Palestinians in Gaza from residing in the West Bank.

The human rights group Al-Haq has stated that Palestinians are forced to make life choices as personal as who they marry and where they live “based on the constraints of Israeli policies and practices that not only target them, but are ultimately aimed at their transfer.”

Since its inception, Israel has prevented Palestinians from living in their homeland through the mass expulsions and displacements in 1948 and 1967 and permanently canceling the residency status of Palestinians in the West Bank, including Jerusalem.

As a result of those efforts, “hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who were born in Palestine are now considered ‘foreigners’ with no immediate right of entry or stay by Israel,” according to Al-Haq.

Israel also prevents Palestinians living under military occupation from exercising freedom of movement, imposing arbitrary travel bans on more than 10,500 Palestinians in the West Bank last year.

Israeli control of Palestinian universities

The Tel Aviv daily Haaretz reported this week that Israel will vet any foreign lecturers wishing to teach at Palestinian universities in the West Bank.

Universities will be able to employ lecturers from abroad “only if they teach in fields that have been designated as essential by Israel,” according to Haaretz.

The prospective lecturers must hold a doctorate and “will have to submit applications for such permits at the Israeli consulate in the applicant’s country of origin.”

COGAT, the bureaucratic arm of Israel’s military occupation, will ultimately approve any entry of a lecturer.

That body exercises control over the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza, including medical patients seeking care not available in the besieged territory, whose life-saving treatment is frequently denied or delayed.

From September 2020 to March 2021, Israel denied or delayed the travel applications of one-third of all Gaza patients seeking medical treatment in Israel and the West Bank.

Applicants seeking to teach at Palestinian universities will have to prove to Israel’s satisfaction that they “will make a significant contribution to academic education, to the regional economy or to the promotion of regional cooperation and peace.”

Israel defines virtually anyone who criticizes it or advocates for Palestinian rights to be against “peace.” This means that Israel will in effect be imposing total political control over Palestinian universities.

“The number of lecturers will be limited by a quota to be determined by Israel, which currently stands at 100,” according to Haaretz.

Meanwhile, only 150 foreign students will be allowed to study at Palestinian universities per year and COGAT will determine the fields of study open to them.

Prospective students will also be required to submit to an interview “at an Israeli diplomatic mission in their country of origin,” Haaretz added.

Both students and lecturers must have an invitation from the Palestinian Authority to apply for a permit to study or work at a Palestinian university.

Israel’s control over entry of all persons into the West Bank has been a longstanding problem for Palestinian academic institutions as Israel only grants tourist visas that last up to three months.

“There is no visiting professor who accepts to leave his job and teach at a Palestinian university without a guarantee of residency, at least for a semester of five months,” Ghassan Khatib, vice president of Birzeit University, told Arab News.

PACBI – the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel – pointed out that Israel’s control over Palestinians via its permit system is only one way that it denies freedom of education.

“Israel has bombed and demolished Palestinian schools and universities, carried out military raids on campuses [and] prevented travel to campus and abroad for scholarships,” PACBI said.

The new restrictions, expected to be implemented in May, have spurred renewed calls for the boycott of Israeli academic institutions, many of which have deep ties to Israel’s regime of occupation, apartheid and settler-colonization in Palestine.


Maureen Clare Murphy

Maureen Clare Murphy's picture

Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada.