Israel extends ban on Palestinian family reunification

Law affects tens of thousands of Palestinian families, creates a separate track of naturalization for spouses of Palestinian citizens of Israel from OPT and "enemy states."

Israeli lawmakers voted on 13 June 2016 to extend by an additional year the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law, an emergency regulation that prevents Palestinian citizens of Israel who are married to residents of the Occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as countries that Israel considers "enemy states," from living with their families.


The law affects tens of thousands of Palestinian families on both sides of the Green Line boundary between Israel and the West Bank, preventing Palestinians from legally moving into Israel to join their spouses.


65 Members of Knesset voted in favor of extending the law and 14 voted against it.


Adalah condemned the vote, saying in response: "The government of Israel continues to seriously harm the constitutional right to equality between all citizens of the state. The law affects – on a national basis – all those who seek to establish a family via spousal unification, and deprives them of the most basic of rights, such as the right to establish a family, the freedom to choose with whom one lives, and the human right to love. Though the law's initiators had failed in their past attempts to present a solid factual justification for this legislation, the Knesset ignores this fact time and time again."


A 2007 amendment to the law expanded its scope beyond Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza to include citizens of "enemy states," namely Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Iran and also "anyone living in an area in which operations that constitute a threat to the State of Israel are being carried out". Following this amendment, the Israeli government ordered a full ban on all residents of Gaza from receiving any legal status in Israel.


The law has been extended on an annual basis yearly since 2003.


Adalah challenged the law before the Israeli Supreme Court in 2006 and again in 2012, with the court upholding the constitutionality of the Citizenship Law on both occasions. In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled in a 6-5 vote that even if the law harmed the constitutional rights of citizens of Israel such as the right to equality, this infringement was proportional and did not violate Israel's Basic Laws.


The decision banning family unification between Palestinians was first taken by the Interior Ministry in May 2002, and the Knesset later enacted this policy into law in July 2003. The Supreme Court rejected petitions filed against the original law in August 2003 by human rights organizations, including Adalah, in May 2006 (HCJ 7052/03, Adalah et al. v. The Interior Ministry, et. al).


Adalah argued in the petition that the law creates three tracks of naturalization in the State of Israel. The first, the 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 of naturalization applies, allowing them to obtain Israeli residency or citizenship status over a four-year period from the date of submitting the application. The third, the lowest track, is for the spouses of Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel from the OPT, Syria, Lebanon, Iran, and Iraq. 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.


In March 2009, Adalah submitted three expert opinions from international legal experts in the UK, South Africa and the Open Society Justice Initiative, who argued that the Citizenship Law violated the right to family life, and is discriminatory and unconstitutional.


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READ: Israeli Supreme Court Upholds Ban on Family Unification, 2012

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