Israel’s Knesset to Vote on Law Blocking Palestinian Spouses’ Residency Rights
(L to R) Aida Touma, Ofer Cassif, and Ayman Odeh, members of Israel's parliament for the Joint List, attend a protest against the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law, in Jerusalem, June 29, 2021. (Menahem Kahana/AFP via Getty Images)

Israel’s Knesset to Vote on Law Blocking Palestinian Spouses’ Residency Rights

Measure expired last summer but enforcement continued

The Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law, a measure that made Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip who married Israelis ineligible for the automatic granting of Israeli citizenship and residency permits, expired last July, but looks set for renewed approval.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, who continued to enforce the law’s provisions long after its expiration, succeeded on Sunday in convincing the Israeli cabinet to approve the bill to be voted on by the Knesset this week.

The Citizenship and Entry Law was approved as a temporary measure in 2003 and continued to be renewed annually by the Knesset until last July. It prohibits Palestinian spouses of Israeli citizens from receiving permanent residency status − family reunification, as it is referred to − in Israel.

The law grants such Palestinians a temporary residency status that they can renew every year, and the Israeli government can strip this status for any national security concern. Tens of thousands of Palestinians and their families inside Israel suffer because of this law. So what will its renewal mean for them?

Suhad Bishara, the legal director of Adalah − The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, told The Media Line the law has been controversial from the start.

“When the law was enacted in 2003, the main claim of the government was that there are security concerns behind the law. In the Supreme Court, there was no disagreement that the right to enjoy a family life is a basic constitutional right and that this law directly violates it. However, the judges who voted to uphold the law did so based on the fact that this is a temporary measure based on security considerations,” she said.

“After many years have passed, this claim remains doubtful, and we have a lot of evidence to refute it. The continual automatic renewal of the law in this context further proves the assertion that the law is unconstitutional. Supporting this, many politicians have made statements that prove there is a racial, demographic goal behind the law, not security concerns,” the attorney continued.

“In addition, the recently suggested formulation of the law that would limit the number of humanitarian cases that the interior minister can deal with is further evidence of this. Due to this evidence, it is obvious that the considerations behind the law are mainly demographic, preventing the reunion of Palestinian families within Israel, making it one of the most racist laws in Israel,” Bishara said.

Over the years, the law has caused families affected by it to undergo constant struggle in their daily lives.

Taiseer Khatib, a political and social activist from Acre and one of the leaders of the movement against the citizenship law, told The Media Line, “My wife, Lana, is a graduate of Najah University in Nablus and she worked for four years for the [Palestinian Authority] Ministry of Health in Jenin. Coming to live with me in Acre was a big sacrifice for her, especially since this automatically prevented her from working and receiving her full rights.”

He said the problems they experienced because of this law were both financial and psychological.

“My family, and many like us, lack any stability and have no guarantee of consistency since the permit that Palestinian spouses hold can be revoked at any time. A lot of families have been destroyed because of this. We are always in doubt and worry,” Khatib said.

“My wife, who was an independent and capable working woman, feels that her freedom was taken away from her. She feels like the only thing she can do now is to stay at home, cook, and raise the kids, despite our efforts to find alternatives for her in relevant employment situations. These attempts failed because she does not have an [Israel] identification number,” he said.

In addition to the lack of stability, the financial situation is also dire since as he stated “All the financial burden falls upon one person in the house and that has its financial consequences, Khatib said.

The situation isn’t very different for Palestinian spouses of Arabs from East Jerusalem

Iman Kiswani, a Palestinian mother of four, is married to a man from Ein Rafa, an Israeli village 10 kilometers west of Jerusalem. But her husband is originally from East Jerusalem and has permanent residency status in Israel, not citizenship.

She told The Media Line, “I am an experienced attorney, I have a degree, I used to work, and I used to get paid and I even used to own a car in the West Bank, but since I came to Jerusalem, no workplace has accepted me.

“Right now, I am unemployed. Even when I was offered a job in the Agriculture Development Association [the Palestinian organization PARC] in Beit Hanina [an Arab neighborhood in East Jerusalem], it was the worst of circumstances. My husband is the one who supports the family financially,” Kiswani said.

Palestinians like Iman and Lana also struggle with mobility as Layan (not her real name), a teacher in a private school in East Jerusalem and a mother of three, told The Media Line.

“In the past, Palestinians were allowed to have an [Israeli] driver’s license only in specific humanitarian cases, and since my husband was in an accident I was allowed to drive freely. Three months ago, however, a provision of the law was enforced that allows [all] Palestinian spouses of Israeli citizens to have a driver’s license and drive.”

Khatib added that his wife was only able to drive three months ago, even after 15 years of marriage.

“The children suffer from this [law] too, you know. We tried as much as possible to reduce the effects of the situation on our kids, but in the end, as much as you try to do that, we still live in this reality,” Khatib said.

Kiswani described how one of her children experienced this firsthand. “During the time when my [residency] permit was revoked, my daughter fell and twisted her leg, and I couldn’t be with her. I couldn’t visit her in the hospital. Imagine being away from your child when she is in dire need of you.”

Layan said there would be tremendous emotional damage if her permit were revoked.

“Legally, since my sons all have [Interior Ministry-issued Israeli] IDs they would need to stay with their father, but they would be unable to do that because they have a strong emotional and physical attachment to me. It would be too hard for them to stay away from me,” she said.

Khatib said, “There are a lot of younger people who are in similar situations; they are always calling me, and I tell them they need to have the will and the patience to tolerate this injustice. A lot of them still go on to get married, so despite the effects of this law on these people, it didn’t stand in their way.

“There are only a very few cases where they didn’t take the next step [and wed] because of this law, at least in the cases I know. I always tell them if you want this person, don’t let unjust laws stand in your way,” Khatib said.

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