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Forbidden Families

by by B'Tselem with HaMoked: Center for the Defe Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2004 at 2:48 AM

ETHNIC CLEANSING AT WORK US Tax dollars $upport this treatment of a people: ethnic cleansing

On 31 July 2003, the Knesset enacted the Nationality and Entry into Israel (Temporary Order) Law, 5763-2003. The law forbids Israelis

married to, or who will marry in the future, residents of the

Occupied Territories to live in Israel with their spouses. Israelis

married to foreign nationals who are not residents of the Occupied

Territories are still allowed to submit requests for family

unification on their behalf.

The new law also harms children born in the Occupied Territories to

parents who are residents of East Jerusalem. The Ministry of the

Interior changed its procedures regarding the registration of these

children in the Population Registry. Rather than filing a "Request to

Register a Child," it became necessary to submit a request for family

unification for them. Under the new law, such requests are not

allowed. As a result, it is impossible to legalize the children's

status in Israel.

The law does not establish a new immigration policy for residents of

the Occupied Territories. International law recognizes the right of

every state to determine who is entitled to enter its territory, so

foreign nationals have no intrinsic right to enter the country. Some

countries set immigration quotas, based on varying criteria. However,

when foreigners are married to nationals or residents of the state,

different rules apply, and there are limitations to the discretion

that the government may exercise. As in every case where a state

authority exercises discretion, the rules must be reasonable, based

on substantive grounds, and applied without discrimination. The issue

involved here is not whether the foreign national has a right to

enter the state, but the right of citizens and residents of the state

to live with their spouses in the country in which they were born.

The law severely infringes the right to family life of Palestinian

residents of East Jerusalem. Some residents of East Jerusalem married

to residents of the Occupied Territories will now have to live

separately from their spouses. Couples that want to live together in

Israel, will be breaking the law, and as such will live in constant

fear and be unable to lead a normal life. If couples choose to live

together in the Occupied Territories, the Israeli spouse will be

breaking the law because of the military order that prohibits the

entry of Israelis into the Occupied Territories.

Couples who got married before the law was enacted and the spouse

from the Occupied Territories did not yet receive a permanent status

in Israel, are allowed to live together only if the spouse receives a

temporary permit from the Civil Administration. Submitting an

application for a temporary permit is difficult and Israel often

cancels such permits. Even prior to enactment of the law, couples had

difficulty living together in Jerusalem because of the problems

entailed in obtaining the permits. Enshrining this situation in law

will make the couple's life uncertain, with no chance for favorable


The new policy regarding the registration of children creates an

unreasonable situation. The Interior Ministry registers some children

in the family and allows them to live with their parents in

Jerusalem, but forces other children in the family to leave their

family or to remain in Jerusalem illegally. The change in policy has

turned many children into lawbreakers. Children born in the future

will also be breaking the law. Many parents will not obey a law that

forbids them to live with their children, so the children will

continue to live with their family in Jerusalem, without permits. The

children will not be entitled to state health insurance, and the

parents will not receive the children's allowance for them from the

National Insurance Institute.

Israel contends that the law is necessary for security reasons,

because the entry of residents of the Occupied Territories – whoever

they are – and their free movement within Israel after receiving a

legal status in Israel, endanger the safety of Israeli citizens. The

state offers only one statistic to back up this claim – twenty-three

Palestinians who received legal status in Israel pursuant to the

family unification process were involved in the carrying out attacks

against Israelis.

The contention that cancellation of the procedure for family

unification of Israelis and Palestinians was based on security

considerations was not raised in a comprehensive and detailed manner

until the state had to justify the cancellation to the High Court of

Justice. Prior to that, the state offered other reasons to justify

the policy, among them the "danger to the Jewish character of the

state" resulting from family unification, and the claim that

residents of the Occupied Territories exploit the family unification

procedure to carry out a "creeping right of return." The official

reliance on security considerations is an attempt to create an

ostensibly legitimate legal basis for the law, on the assumption that

the state will have difficulty defending the real reasons before the

High Court and the international community.

A serious discussion was never held on the demographic claims, in

part because of the state's attempt to conceal the demographic

argument. The claims were never proven, and no state official

presented any relevant statistics. According to the Interior

Ministry, between 100,000 and 140,000 Palestinian residents of the

Occupied Territories received legal status in Israel through the

family unification process. However, these figures, which were

intended to be used to support the demographic justification for the

law, are not relevant in a discussion on family unification of

Israelis and residents of the Occupied Territories. The Ministry

itself admitted that its number included spouses who were not

residents of the Occupied Territories (for whom family unification

was not cancelled) and the couple's children.

The state was so sure of the strength of its argument that it did not

bother to provide a foundation for it. It contended that forty-five

Israelis were killed and 145 wounded in attacks in which Palestinians

who had received legal status in Israel pursuant to the family

unification process had been involved. However, it did not indicate

how may attacks were carried out, their location, the nature of the

involvement of the Palestinians who had legal status in Israel, and

the how having an Israeli identity card benefited them in carrying

out the attack. The state also did not mention whether the

individuals were tried, the offenses for which they were convicted,

or the sentences they received – if, in fact, some of them were tried

and convicted.

Even if the state's contention that these twenty-three Palestinians

were involved in carrying out attacks is entirely accurate, this

statistic is certainly not a sufficient basis for the state's

contention that the general population of residents of the Occupied

Territories who are married to Israelis constitutes a danger. Some

0.02 percent of them, according to the state, took advantage of their

legal status in Israel to assist in attacks.

The state's contention about the threat posed by residents of the

Occupied Territories is unconvincing for another reason as well. The

law allows the entry of Palestinians into Israel to work, obtain

medical treatment, or "any other temporary purpose," and allows the

granting of permanent residency to collaborators and their families.

The law also allows residents of the Occupied Territories whose

requests for family unification have already been approved to remain

in Israel, and states that the Interior Ministry will consider

requests submitted prior to the government's decision.

The state's logic, whereby isolated cases are sufficient grounds to

punish hundreds of thousands of people could be similarly used to

justify the imposition of all sorts of other prohibitions. For

example, is it not justifiable to forbid Arab citizens of Israel to

enter Jewish towns and villages after an Arab citizen carried out an

attack and several other Arabs were accomplices? Is it not

justifiable to forbid settlers from crossing the Green Line and

entering Israel after one of them transported the suicide bomber who

committed the attack at the Geha intersection, and after a number of

settlers were convicted of selling weapons to Palestinians?

For many years, demographic considerations have indeed affected

Israeli government policy. However, the new law adds a particularly

grave innovation. This policy was enshrined in law in July 2003, and

is the first law that explicitly denies rights on the basis of

national origin. The determination that Israelis are allowed to live

with the person of their choice and inside the country unless they

are married to residents of the Occupied Territories, is racist and


B'Tselem and HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual urge

the Israeli government to change its policy and treat its citizens

and residents equally, and call on the Knesset to repeal the new law.

The Interior Ministry must reinstate the procedures for family

unification and the registration of children, and process these

requests efficiently and fairly. They must recognize the right of

residents of East Jerusalem to marry whomever they choose and to live

with their spouse and children wherever they wish.


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