Israel/Occupied Territories: The Knesset should reject discriminatory family reunion law

The Israeli government's Proposed Law on Citizenship and Entry into Israel is scheduled to be discussed by the Knesset's Internal Affairs Committee on 29 July in an apparent effort to have the bill rushed through the Knesset before the start of its summer recess on 3 August.

'The draft law barring family reunification for Palestinian spouses of Israeli citizens is profoundly discriminatory and Knesset members should reject it,' Amnesty International urged today.

The law would deny Israeli citizens married to Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip their right to live with their spouses in their own country. The draft bill in effect targets Israeli citizens of Palestinian origins, who constitute some 20 per cent of the population of Israel, as it is they who generally marry Palestinians from the Occupied Territories.

'A law permitting such blatant racial discrimination, on grounds of ethnicity or nationality, would clearly violate international human rights law and treaties which Israel has ratified and pledged to uphold,' Amnesty International said.

The organisation noted that the bill clearly discriminates against Israeli citizens of Palestinian origin and their Palestinian spouses and declared it 'scandalous that the Government has presented this bill, and shocking that the Knesset has accepted to rush it through.'

If passed, the law would affect thousands of couples, including those newly-married and couples who have been married for years, as well as those whose requests for residence permits are still pending.

Some couples have been waiting for over 10 years for family reunification. In the meantime many have been forced to live separately or with a Palestinian spouse staying in Israel without a permit and at risk of deportation at any time.

The government has contended that the bill is aimed at addressing the security threat posed by Palestinians from the Occupied Territories.

'Security measures must be proportionate and respect Israel's human rights obligations. Israel cannot punish thousands of families, when it has many other security options available,' Amnesty International stressed.

The adverse impact of this law would be even greater for Palestinians residents of East Jerusalem who do not have Israeli citizenship. Their Palestinian spouses will not be allowed to live with them in Jerusalem and they will lose their right to live in Jerusalem if they go to live with their spouses in the Occupied Territories.

Since the beginning of the intifada, residence permits for Palestinian spouses have been de facto frozen and in May 2002 the Israeli Ministry of the Interior issued an administrative decision formalising the freeze. The Israeli government cabinet approved this policy 'in light of the security situation and because of the implication of the immigration and the establishment in Israel of foreigners of Palestinian descent including through family reunification.'

Relevant information

Annual Report 2003: Israel and the Occupied Territories is available online at: http://web.amnesty.org/report2003/isr-summary-eng

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