Israeli citizenship law isolates Palestinians
Taybeh, Israel - Randa, a Palestinian resident of the West Bank city of Qalqilya, married Hosam, an Arab citizen of Israel from Lod, in 1998.
Although she received an Israeli residency permit that was renewable every year, little did she know that within a few years a new law passed by Israel’s Knesset would jeopardise her status in Israel, complicate her life and threaten her marriage.
“I was living happily and quietly as a wife and mother of two young children,” she said. “It was until 2003, when my brother was deemed a threat to Israel, that my residency and my rights were revoked.”
Attempts to reinstate her permit through attorneys, human rights organisations and Knesset members failed.
“I paid a high price for someone else’s mistake,” she said.
The measure that changed Randa’s life is the Citizenship and Entry to Israel Law.
It was presented in 2002 and passed a Knesset vote a year later after a suicide attack in the port city of Haifa by the son of an Arab-Israeli whose mother was also a Palestinian from the West Bank.
Arab-Israelis are Palestinian natives of British-mandate Palestine who remained in their land after Israel seized it in 1948. Those Palestinians — mostly Christians and Muslims — were accorded Israeli citizenship and rights, although they complain of stereotyping and discrimination.
Palestinians living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip share blood ties but live under Israeli military occupation since the war in 1967. Although they are ruled by the Palestinian Authority, since a 1993 broad framework of a peace deal with Israel, they are bound to the rules of the military occupation.
The Citizenship and Entry to Israel Law prevents Arab-Israelis who are married to Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza from living with their spouses in Israel. Citizens of “enemy states”, such as Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Libya, Sudan, Pakistan and Yemen, are also barred access to Israel.
Although the law was passed as a temporary order deemed necessary for Israel’s security, it is extended on an annual basis. It was done so in June on a 65-14 Knesset vote.
Osama Saadi, an Israeli Knesset member, called the law the “most racist in the Israeli book of laws”.
MK Zehava Galon said: “Over the years, there have been Interior ministers who explained that this law is necessary because there is a demographic threat, because the Arab residents of Israel bring their wives in from the territories. Then it became a security threat. The truth of the matter is that there is a rightist government that hates Arabs, excludes them, and is using the terror attacks as an excuse for this disgrace.”
Sawsan Zaher, a lawyer with Israeli non-governmental organisation Adalah, the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, said: “The philosophy is very dangerous because it views a person as a threat to state security simply because of his or her national belonging or geographic location.”
“It affects people at the most fundamental level,” she cautioned. “The immediate effect is to split families, to separate husband from wife, children from their parents and brothers from their sisters.”
The law creates three types of naturalisation: One for Jews who can get citizenship automatically based on the 1950 Law of Return, a second for foreigners who are permitted to obtain residency and citizenship over a four-year period and a third for spouses of Arab-Israelis who are from the Palestinian territories, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Iran.
Prior to 2002, according to HaMoked — the Israel-based Centre for the Defence of the Individual — applications filed by Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza were reviewed on merit and decisions were based on personal circumstances. However, HaMoked stated that from 2001, the Ministry of Interior had been trying to stop the immigration of Palestinians.
Commenting on the high number of Palestinians applying for family unification, then-minister Eli Yishai said “through Israel’s back door, the Palestinians are realising their right of return”. He was referring to Palestinians using laws for their benefit.
“This is surprising and worrisome,” Yishai said.
Statistics from Adalah show that from 1996 until 2008, more than 130,000 Palestinians entered Israel for reasons of family reunification. Of the total, 54 were involved in acts of violence against Israel and seven were indicted, convicted and sentenced to prison.
Palestinian women often suffer most because of the law as the male spouse can decide whether to apply for renewal.
Randa’s story, however, was different. In 2004, Hosam died on the same day she was in court fighting for her residency. Being a widow hindered her chance of having her residency or any rights reinstated.
Now, an illegal alien, she lives with her mother-in-law in Israel. She does not have the right to work, obtain health care or receive social benefits.
“I don’t want anything from the government except permission to stay with my children,” Randa said.