Knesset renews discriminatory family reunification law

Civic Coalition for Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem/

On Monday, the Knesset voted to extend for another year what one MK called “the most racist Israeli law on the books.” The Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law is an ‘emergency’ provision to the Family Reunification Law, and it severely restricts family reunification rights for Palestinians who are citizens or residents of Israel while leaving Jewish-Israelis’ rights untouched.

Ordinarily, the Family Reunification Law grants automatic legal status to non-Israelis who marry Israeli citizens or residents. The ‘emergency’ provision freezes all reunification for people who are residents of the West Bank, Gaza and a number of other countries Israel deems a security threat.

The provision allows only for children aged 14-18, women over the age of 25, and men over the age of 35 to apply for temporary permits to stay in Israel or East Jerusalem. These temporary permits do not provide married civil status or any social security rights, including health insurance.

The provision also allows officials to deny temporary permit applications if the officials determine that a family member of the applicant may be a security threat.

First enacted in 2002, the provision was adopted into Israeli law in 2003. Since the Supreme Court has ruled that the provision cannot become permanent legislation, the Knesset has kept it as a temporary provision and simply renewed it every year.

Proponents of the provision claim that its purpose is to prevent terror attacks. However, as Member of Knesset Osama Saadi pointed out, less than one in a thousand terror attacks since 2003 have been carried out by people living in Israel or East Jerusalem by virtue of family reunification.

A Tool of Demographic Manipulation

A better explanation for the thirteen-year continuation of this ‘temporary’ provision is Israel’s long-standing goal of maintaining demographic superiority over Palestinians and strengthening the illegal annexation of East Jerusalem.

The Israeli government has made no secret of the importance of this demographic goal. Many officials, including mayors of Jerusalem, have publically stated that maintaining a larger Jewish population was their primary aim behind policy decisions. Official policy documents enshrining demographic goals have been adopted by the Israeli government, starting in 1973 with the Gafni Committee’s recommendation that Jerusalem’s ratio of 73.5% Jews and 26.5% Palestinians be maintained, and more recently in the Jerusalem Master Plan 2000 where the desired ratio was revised to 60% Jews and 40% Palestinians.

As a reaction to the Palestinian population’s much greater natural growth rate (3.2% compared to 1.4% for Jewish Israelis), Israel continually implements policies and practices which forcibly displace Palestinians from Jerusalem or prevent their entry in order to achieve their demographic goals.

Since 1967, Israel has slowly increased its methods for reducing the number of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. In 1967 the law allowed officials to revoke a person’s residency if he or she settles outside of Israel for 7 or more years or becomes a resident or citizen of another country. In 1995 officials’ discretion was expanded to allow them to revoke the residencies of those who cannot prove their “centre of life” is inside Israel or East Jerusalem. In 2006, the Minister of the Interior began punitive residency revocations, targeted at those who allegedly “breached their duty of allegiance to the state of Israel”.

Even without the extended freeze on family reunification, the process is prohibitively difficult, costly and time consuming. It could take many years for a spouse or child to gain residency. All the while, the applicants are forced to live in uncertainty. Unregistered Palestinian children in East Jerusalem
are unable to access the free public health services and education that are so necessary for their health and development.

The restrictions on family reunification that were extended on Monday are a continuation of the longstanding policies of demographic manipulation and have a profoundly negative impact upon Palestinian children.

International Law Violations

The renewed provision violates numerous human rights guaranteed under international law, including the right to protection of the family (ICCPR articles 17, 23), the right to non-discrimination (ICCPR article 26), and the right to social security (ICESCR article 9).

In addition, the denying temporary permits to relatives of individuals deemed a security threat violates the prohibition against collective punishment under article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Unable to be credibly justified on security grounds, this 13-year-old law continues to be a clear example of the discriminatory manner in which Israel oppresses Palestinians.

The Civic Coalition for Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem called upon the international community to put concerted pressure on Israel to ensure it respects international law by

1) Repealing the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law, and

2) Removing all other barriers to family reunification for Palestinians