Israeli High Court upholds discriminatory law against Palestinian spouses

Press release

FIDH and its member organizations in Israel, Adalah, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) and B’tselem express their dismay at the dismissal of a petition presented by several organizations, lawyers and Israeli citizens demanding the annulment of the Nationality and Entry into Israel Law (Temporary Order) 5763-2003, which bans family reunification for Israeli married with Palestinian OPT residents.

The Nationality and Entry into Israel Law (Temporary Order) 5763-2003, based on the Government Decision no. 1803 of 2002, was introduced in 2003 as a temporary measure, but has been renewed since. While Israeli citizens are granted the right to family reunification with their foreign spouse, this law denies this same right to Israeli citizens married to Palestinian residents in the OPT.

Despite the calls to revoke the ban by several UN agencies (UNHRC [1] , UNCERD [2] and UN CEDAW [3]), as well as by several human rights organizations, the High Court of Israel, on 14th May 2006 dismissed the petition presented by Adalah and ACRI calling for the annulment of the Nationality Law and in particular of its discriminatory provisions.

The law affects the lives of thousands of couples, who are forced to live separately. Indeed, couples who are denied family reunification under this law, can neither live together in Israel, nor move together to the Palestinian Territories, as the spouse holding Israeli identity card would violate the military commander’s order prohibiting Israelis to enter areas under Palestinian security control. Otherwise, couples deciding to infringe the law in order to preserve their right to family life, would be living in constant fear and precariousness.

The Law, which infringes the right to family life, privacy, dignity and equality, has been broadly defined as discriminatory and racist, explicitly denying family rights on the basis of national origin. It is therefore in flagrant contrast with Israeli Constitutional Law, as well as with several International Conventions to which the State of Israel is party, such as the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention for the Rights of the Child.

The state justifies the law on security grounds, contending that the entry of residents of the Occupied Territories, as such, and their free movement inside the country after they obtain a lawful status in the state, endanger Israeli citizens. However, the state has only provided a small number of cases of individuals "who were involved in suicide attacks in one way or another". Such contentions fail to justify punishing thousands of individuals.

FIDH, ACRI, Adalah and B’tselem consider the infringement of human and constitutional rights disproportionate to the security concerns on which the government claims the decision was based, namely that the free movement granted by citizenship could facilitate activities potentially endangering the State of Israel’s security. Indeed, under the current law, rather than determining on an individual basis whether the person seeking citizenship/family reunification is involved in terrorist activities, the Israeli Government rejects all applications for a civil status in Israel solely because the applicant is a Palestinian resident of the OPT.

In addition to this, the last amendments of the Law, passed in July 2005, within strict limits, entitles individuals to apply for temporary permits, but still bars them from applying for citizenship, excluding them, therefore, from social benefits, as well as making them ineligible for work permits.
Moreover, those individuals who fall under the amendments face the danger that their application may be rejected because there is a suspicion that their family members might be involved in terrorist activities, over which the applicant has neither responsibility nor power, therefore constituting a collective punishment of Palestinians residing both in the OPT and in Israel.

While easing the unsustainable conditions of these couples’ children, whose registration was previously banned, meaning that the children could not be entitled to live with their parent in Israel, the new amendment still does not grant these children the stability and the unification of their families.

The amendments, rather than allowing family unification, as it was claimed, or bringing the law closer to international standards of non-discrimination and respect for human rights, has instead introduced arbitrary and restrictive gender-related and age clauses. Indeed, restricting on the basis of gender and age the persons who may apply for citizenship/family unification is an arbitrary disposition, aiming uniquely at restricting the number of persons having access to their right.

FIDH, ACRI, Adalah and B’tselem, therefore, renew their call to the Israeli authorities to annul the Law and especially its discriminatory and racist provisions, as well as to uphold their constitutional and international obligations towards the safeguard of right to family, regardless of nationality.

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