12 January 2012

Israeli Supreme Court Upholds Ban on Family Unification

(Haifa, Israel) Last night, 11 January 2012, at 9 pm, the Israeli Supreme Court in a 6-5 decision, delivered a 232-page judgment upholding the constitutionality of the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law – 2003 (as amended 2007). This law severely restricts Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel from living together in Israel with their Palestinian spouses from the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) or from "enemy states" defined by the law as "Syria, Lebanon, Iran and Iraq". Thousands of Palestinian families are affected by this law, forced to move abroad, or live apart or to live together illegally in Israel.

In Adalah's view: "The Supreme Court approved a law the likes of which do not exist in any democratic state in the world, depriving citizens from maintaining a family life in Israel only on the basis of the ethnicity or national belonging of their spouse. The ruling proves how much the situation regarding the civil rights of the Arab minority in Israel is declining into a highly dangerous and unprecedented situation."

The Supreme Court panel of 11 justices was deeply divided in the case. It was decided by a vote of 6-5, with six justices voting to uphold the law – Justices Rivlin, Grunis (the new Chief Justice as of March 2012), Naor, Rubinstein, Melcer, and Hendel - and five justices dissenting - Chief Justice Beinisch, and Justices Hayut, Jubran, Levy, and Arbel. The majority of the court ruled 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.

With this decision, the Supreme Court was ruling on a series of petitions submitted by Adalah, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and others. Adalah Attorneys Hassan Jabareen and Sawsan Zaher petitioned the court in May 2007 on behalf of two Arab families against the Interior Ministry and the Attorney General (AG), demanding the cancellation of the 2007 amendment to law. The 2007 amendment expanded the scope of the existing law to include not only Palestinian residents of the OPT but also 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 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 Arabs 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.

Case citation: HCJ 466/07, MK Zahava Galon v. The Attorney General, et al. (petition dismissed 11 January 2012).

For more information:

The Petition (H)
The Supreme Court's decision (Hebrew) - 2012
The Supreme Court's decision (English) - 2006