Israel’s Supreme Court orders state to explain amendment to citizenship law

Israel’s Supreme Court issued an interim order today compelling the government the explain its decision to amend the citizenship and prevent the unification of families by prohibiting the granting of residency or citizenship status to Palestinians who are married to Israeli citizens. The court ruling was in response to a petition by Adalah - The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) and Knesset members from Meretz and the Arab factions.

On Sunday, 9 November 2003 at 10 a.m., the Supreme Court of Israel will hold the first hearing on petitions challenging the constitutionality of a new law, enacted on 31 July 2003, prohibiting the granting of any residency or citizenship status to Palestinians from the Occupied Territories who are married to Israeli citizens. The new law will adversely affect thousands of families, comprised of tens of thousands of individuals. The three petitions before the Supreme Court were filed in Adalah’s own name and on behalf of Arab Members of Knesset (MKs), the High Follow-up Committee for Arab Citizens in Israel, and individual families; the Meretz political party; and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel against the Minister of Interior and the Attorney General. The presiding justices will be Chief Justice Aharon Barak, Justice Dalia Dorner, and Justice Yacov Turkel.

At the hearing, the Supreme Court will consider the petitioners’ request for an order nisi against the respondents to show cause as to why new law, titled the Nationality and Entry into Israel Law (Temporary Order) – 2003, should not be declared null and void. Adalah also expects that the Court will issue a ruling on its request for an injunction to prevent the immediate deportation of one of the petitioners in the case, a Palestinian woman from the West Bank recently married to a Palestinian citizen of Israel.

In the petition filed on 4 August 2003, Adalah argued that the Court should cancel the law as it violates the constitutionally protected rights of equality, personal liberty to maintain a family life, privacy, and due process. The law limits the ability of Israeli citizens’, namely Palestinian citizens of Israel, to exercise these rights based solely on the ethnicity of their spouses. As stated in the petition:

This law is the first, since the legislation of the Basic Laws that denies citizens’ their constitutional rights specifically and directly on the basis of their ethnicity. … The law specifically utilizes the ethnicity of Palestinian citizens of Israel to infringe upon their rights, since Palestinian citizens of Israel are the individuals who marry Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza. The law does not grant rights to a specific group, due to their ethnicity, but on the contrary, it specifically utilizes ethnicity to limit and infringe on existing constitutional rights. Thus, the law does not merely discriminate on the basis of nationality or ethnicity; it is clearly racist.

Adalah further argued that security concerns, used by the government to justify the need for the new law, cannot justify such sweeping measures. “When they [the government] were requested to provide specific data, it become clear that they were referring to 20 people suspected of direct or indirect involvement, including weapons offenses, out of a population of many thousands of residents the West Bank and Gaza who were granted status in Israel through family unification.” Even if the data is reliable, the numbers presented by the government, Adalah argued, constitute a minute part of the total number of status-receivers. It cannot be inferred from this information that the entire population of status-receivers or the entire Palestinian population of the Occupied Territories is dangerous.

In its initial response to the petition submitted on 2 November 2003, the main claim advanced by the Attorney General’s office is that the purpose of the law is to defend the right to life of Israeli citizens and national security. When balanced against other individual rights that may be violated, the state contended, these considerations must prevail. In Adalah’s view, as the state did not provide evidence to support such claims, its sweeping conclusion that three million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza all constitute a danger to the state, is racist and cannot be defended.

It is important to note that since the enactment of the law, the United Nations Human Rights Committee and the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination have both issued recommendations urging the Israeli government to revoke the law on the grounds that it is discriminatory. International human rights organizations including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Federation of Human Rights have also called for the cancellation of the law.

Adalah General Director Hassan Jabareen, Advocate and Adalah Attorney Orna Kohn, who prepared the petition, will argue before the Supreme Court at the upcoming hearing.