Adalah Petitions Supreme Court to Overturn New Citizenship Law Banning Family Unification: Law Prevents Palestinian Citizens of Israel from Being Connected to the Palestinian People and Members of the Arab Nation


On 31 May 2007, Adalah petitioned the Supreme Court of Israel on behalf of two Arab families against the Interior Ministry and the Attorney General (AG), demanding the cancellation of the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law (Amendment No. 2) enacted on 21 March 2007. Adalah further demanded that the graduated procedure for obtaining residency and/or citizenship status be used to decide on applications for family unification in an equitable manner that does not entail discrimination between family unification applicants, regardless of their nationality.

The new law expands the scope of the existing law and the duration of its applicability. The new law not only prevents citizens of the State of Israel who are married to Palestinian residents of the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) from living together as a family in Israel, but also bans residents or citizens of Iran, Iraq, Syria or Lebanon from doing so. This ban also applies to “anyone living in an area in which operations that constitute a threat to the State of Israel are being carried out,” according to security reports presented to the government. The new law is valid until 31 July 2008.

Representing the petitioners, Adalah Attorneys Hassan Jabareen and Sawsan Zaher argued that the law creates three tracks of naturalization in the State of Israel. The first, highest track, is for Jewish people, who can gain citizenship immediately and automatically under the Law of Return (1950). The second track is for foreigners, to whom the graduated procedure applies, allowing them to obtain Israeli residency or citizenship status over a four-year period from the date of submitting the application. The third, lowest track, is for the spouses of Arabs citizens not from the OPT, Iran, Iraq, Syria or Lebanon. Adalah stressed that the creation of these tracks, which is based essentially on the nationality of the applicant, constitutes racial discrimination, and contradicts the principle of equality and prior decisions of the Supreme Court.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) imposes the duty on UN member states, including Israel, to respect the principle of non-discrimination for every person. Therefore Adalah argued in the petition that although any state in the world can prevent specific persons from living in it, it cannot deprive a person of his or her rights due solely to his or her national belonging, particularly if that person has a direct family link to citizens of that state.

The petition presented the history of this racist law from its original enactment by the Knesset in July 2003 as a “temporary order”, valid for one year, to initial amendments to the law passed in March 2006 (prior to the Supreme Court's decision) that added age and gender-based limitations and did not substantially ease restrictions, up until the Supreme Court's rejection of petitions filed against the law by human rights organizations, including Adalah, in May 2006.

Adalah argued that while a majority of Supreme Court Justices, six to five, rejected the original petition, in fact, six justices (five from the minority and one from the majority) found that the law is unconstitutional. The sixth justice, unlike the other five, simply ruled that the government should be given an additional six months to amend the law to include more exemptions. The Israeli legislature, however, yet again, did not respect the Supreme Court's decision by enacting the new law in 2007.

In the latest petition, Adalah again argued that the law is racist and unconstitutional, and violates the rights of persons seeking family unification in Israel, in addition to the constitutional right to dignity of their spouses who are Israeli citizens. The law further infringes the rights of Arab citizens of Israel to equality and to conduct a family life due to their national belonging, and the freedom of the citizen to choose his or her life partner and to live with that partner without restriction or condition.

Upon enacting the new law, the Knesset did not bring any data to justify the widening of the ban and its application to residents or citizens of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Rather, it provided a clause that enables the executive authorities to further expand this ban, based on its own opinion without legislative oversight.

Significantly, United Nations human rights treaty bodies, the European Parliament, international human rights organizations, academics and the international media, severely criticized the original law enacted in 2003. For example, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) issued decisions in 2003 and 2004 calling upon Israel to revoke the law. In its most recent concluding observations of March 2007, the CERD Committee again recommended that Israel revoke the law and “ensure that restrictions on family reunification are strictly necessary and limited in scope, and are not applied on the basis of nationality, residency or membership of a particular community.”

Adalah further argued in the petition that the new law prevents Arab citizens of Israel from having contact with their families and members of the Arab nation and the Palestinian people, which is an extremely dangerous matter as the Arabs in Israel are not an immigrant group but an indigenous national minority. In addition, preventing Arab citizens from conducting family life with members of their people and nation is in breach of the principles of international law.

H.C. 830/07, Adalah v. The Minister of the Interior, et al. (pending)

 The Petition (H)