Knesset passes racist law barring family unification of Palestinians married to Israeli citizens

During the Apartheid era in South Africa, marriage or any love realationship between members of different racial groups was forbidden. In all public institutions and offices, in public transport and on public toilets, racial segregation was in force.

Today, by a vote of 53 in favor, 25 against, and one abstention, the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) passed a new law titled, “Nationality and Entry into Israel Law (Temporary Order) - 2003.” Introduced and supported by the government, the law bars Palestinians from the Occupied Territories from obtaining citizenship or residency status in Israel by marriage to an Israeli citizen, thus prohibiting them from living in Israel with their spouses. It will affect thousands of married couples and their children, who are currently living in Israel, as well as newly married couples, forcing families to separate or to leave the country.

The new law will primarily affect Palestinian citizens of Israel, as they are the Israeli citizens who marry Palestinians from the Occupied Territories. It also exclusively and solely targets Palestinians; the general policy for residency and citizenship status in Israel for all other “foreign spouses” remains unchanged. The new law violates individuals’ fundamental constitutional rights to family life, dignity, privacy, and equality, and amounts to discrimination on the basis of ethnic or national belonging.

“The new law takes away constitutionally-protected rights explicitly on the basis of ethnic or national belonging,” says Attorney Hassan Jabareen, General Director of Adalah. “While numerous Israeli laws discriminate against Arab citizens of the state, as they privilege one group - the Jewish majority - over the other, this law takes away rights. Thus, the law is not only discriminatory, it is racist.”

Given the constitutional rights at stake, imposing such a bar on family unification is completely disproportionate. The government claims that the new law is essential because Palestinians from the Occupied Territories who have obtained citizenship or residency status in Israel via family unification have been increasingly involved in terror activity. However, the government has many other tools and mechanisms to address security concerns. It has broad authority to conduct criminal and security background checks on all persons seeking to gain status in Israel, and it consistently uses this power throughout the current years-long family unification process. By setting forth such a sweeping measure, the new law amounts to collective punishment.

Adalah Attorney Orna Kohn, who has petitioned the Supreme Court against a similar government decision passed last year and who has been extensively lobbying against the passage of the new law, emphasizes that: “Even if the government’s facts are true, they do not justify the violation of an entire population’s fundamental rights. A basic rule of law is to prevent harm to fundamental rights based on collective suspicion. Security concerns cannot justify such extreme measures.”

Adalah will file a petition to the Supreme Court of Israel challenging the legality of the new law.