Yesterday, Minister of Interior Eli Yishai signed a special decree officially revoking the citizenship of Mr. Nihad Abu Kishik, an Arab citizen of Israel. This unprecedented decision makes Mr. Abu Kishik stateless, in violation of Israeli and international law. Mr. Abu Kishik is currently incarcerated for breaching state security; he does not hold any other citizenship.
Article 11(b) of the Citizenship Law (1952) grants the Minister of Interior discretion to revoke the citizenship of an Israeli citizen for ‘breach of allegiance to the State of Israel.’
This discretion, however, cannot be exercised in contravention of Israel’s clear obligation under international law to ensure that it does not make its own citizens stateless. In its 1998 report to the UN Human Rights Committee, the Government of Israel wrote that ‘as a practical matter,’ revocation of citizenship for ‘breach of allegiance’ is never invoked.
On 7 August 2002, Adalah wrote to Minister Yishai raising grave concerns about his intention to revoke the citizenship of two Arab citizens of Israel, including Mr. Abu Kishik, and to nullify the permanent residency status of a Palestinian individual from East Jerusalem. In the letter, Adalah Staff Attorney Orna Kohn stated that the right to citizenship is a fundamental right under Israeli and international law, and that this revocation of citizenship would be unprecedented.
The right to citizenship was upheld by the former Minister of Interior and by the Supreme Court in Hilla Alrai v. The Minister of Interior, in which the Minister was asked by a third party to strip the citizenship of Yigal Amir, an Israeli Jewish citizen who assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. In that case, the then Minister of Interior declined to revoke Amir’s citizenship, noting that such a decision would be an extreme and drastic measure, and the Supreme Court upheld this position.
In Adalah’s view, Minister Yishai’s decision to revoke the citizenship of Arab citizens of Israel contributes to the de-legitimization of the community and encourages racism. This decision is one of a growing number of recent policy decisions and new laws initiated by Minister Yishai and the Israeli government, which violate the rights of the Palestinian minority in Israel and threatens the status of their citizenship.