Supreme Court Holds Second Hearing on Petitions Against New Law Banning Family Unification

On Sunday, 18 January 2004, an enlarged panel of 13 justices of the Supreme Court of Israel held a second hearing on petitions challenging the constitutionality of a new law that prohibits the granting of any residency or citizenship status to Palestinians from the Occupied Territories who are married to Israeli citizens. The new law affects thousands of families, comprised of tens of thousands of individuals. Seven petitions are currently pending before the Court against the “Nationality and Entry into Israel Law (Temporary Order) – 2003,” enacted by theKnesset on 31 July 2003.

The petitions were filed by Adalah, in its own name and on behalf of two families, the High Follow-up Committee for Arab Citizens in Israel, and Arab members of Knesset (MKs); the Meretz political party; the Association for Civil Rights in Israel; and by private lawyers on behalf of individual families against the Interior Minister and the Attorney General. The Supreme Court has joined these petitions for hearings and decision.

Adalah’s main argument against the new law, as set forth in the petition filed on 4 August 2003, is that it violates the constitutionally protected rights of equality, personal liberty to maintain a family life, privacy, and dignity. The law limits the ability of Israeli citizens, namely Arab citizens of Israel - the citizens who marry Palestinians from the Occupied Territories - to exercise these rights based solely on the ethnicity of their spouses. Further, the new law is discriminatory as it applies only to Palestinians; family unification and naturalization remain available to all other “foreign” spouses of Israeli citizens.

Moreover, Adalah argued in the petition that security concerns, used by the state to justify the need for the new law, cannot justify such sweeping measures. While the state claims increasing involvement in terror activity by residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip who were granted status in Israel through family unification, it could point to only 23 people out of a group of thousands of status-receivers who were suspected of indirect involvement, none of whom were involved in any actual terror activity. Even if this data is reliable, Adalah contended, the numbers presented constitute a minute number of people, and thus, Adalah argued that the law is completely disproportionate.

At the Supreme Court hearing held two days ago, the petitioners, led by Adalah General Director, Attorney Hassan Jabareen argued before the Court and responded to questions raised by the justices. The representative of the Attorney General’s Office, Yochi Gnessin, also addressed the Court, primarily arguing that the law was necessary as Israel had failed in its attempts to predict potential involvement in terror activity of those requesting family unification. According to Attorney Gnessin, 92% of the requests for family unification were approved, while 8% were rejected on the grounds of security. The state further claimed that the ban on family unification was justified and directed against all Palestinians, as they all support the resistance against Israel, and thus, they are all potential terrorists. Adalah countered that the law and the Attorney General’s position that three million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza all constitute a danger to the state, is racist and cannot be defended. To assert that all Palestinians are potential terrorists, defames and vilifies the whole Palestinian nation.

Adalah emphasized the racist character of this law, differentiating it from a discriminatory law and comparing it to apartheid-era laws in South Africa. Adalah also argued that, “love is beyond the law and beyond ethnicity.” People will continue to get married and to live together; yet, as a result of the law, their lives will become unbearably difficult. Further, Adalah argued at the hearing that despite the fact that the law was legislated as a temporary order for one year, due to be renewed by the Knesset in August 2004, the Court’s failure to rule on the issue and to let the law stand would constitute a dangerous precedent. It would send a negative message to the Knesset, namely, that it is acceptable to legislate racist laws, as long as they are temporary in nature; thus, not ruling on the case is in fact a type of ruling, Adalah stated. Adalah expects the Supreme Court to deliver its decision on the case within the next four months.

Adalah General Director Hassan Jabareen, Advocate and Adalah Attorney Orna Kohn prepared the petition and appeared before the Supreme Court at both hearings.

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