“Stripping Citizenship” Story Series: Background

For the next five days the Arab Association for Human Rights (HRA) will be publishing the contents of its newest report, “Stripping Citizenship”, in serialized updates here and on our website.  Today marks the official publication date for the report, and to kick off the week of stories, we are happy to present for your consideration a basic background summary of the 2002 Amendments to the “Citizenship and Entry in Israel” Law.  Tomorrow, we will publish the first of five personal stories which explore the different effects of that law.  Each story intends to display the human consequences of the discriminatory legislation and to show you reality of an often underrepresented minority.  So, without further delay, we present the background and preface to “Stripping Citizenship”.

A Racist, Undemocratic Law and an Infringement on Human Rights

In May 2002, the Israeli government ruled that the “Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law”, which was issued in 1952, does not apply to Arabs holding Israeli citizenship if they have taken a spouse from the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Israel’s legislative body, the “Knesset”, ratified this decision in April 2003.  It was passed as a temporary amendment, although the Knesset has renewed its provisions on an annual basis.

Under this law, Palestinian citizens of Israel cannot obtain citizenship for the person they choose to marry if this person is from the West Bank or Gaza. Additionally, spouses and family members are prohibited from gaining temporary residence, or even visiting their loved ones in Israel. This policy tears families apart and prevents their unification.

The law left a narrow opening for granting the right of residence for some on the basis of “humanitarian cases”, but this exception is a formality and very constricted, reflecting a policy of exclusion and discrimination that is increasingly the norm.

The stated justifications for this discrimination between Arab citizens and Jewish citizens include often-utilized security concerns (i.e. the state of conflict with the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the potential threat of terrorism). Importantly, the law also cites the racial and demographic ideology that reflects Israel’s founding as a ‘Jewish state’. Preventing family reunification specifically targets the Arab citizens of Israel for no other reason than their Palestinian identity.

These citizens are the indigenous inhabitants of this country.  They have been the owners of this land for generations. They remained in this land during the war of 1948, during the Palestinian Nakba, in which 800,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes and were forcefully made into refugees.   Moreover, they did not immigrate to Israel; rather, Israel migrated to them and built its state on their land.

While Israel’s Declaration of Independence asserts equal citizenship for all its citizens without discrimination on the basis of nationality, religion or gender, Israel explicitly identifies itself as a Jewish state.

In the face of this injustice, several human rights organizations, including Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, appealed this law before the Supreme Court in August 2003, but the Court rejected the appeal in May 2006 and ruled the amendment as legal.

This appeal was rejected with a narrow decision of 6 judges against 5. Among the judges in the minority was the Supreme Court President at the time, Aharon Barak, and Judge Dorit Beinish, who later became the Court President.

Despite the appeal’s dismissal, the majority of the judges decided that the law (Amendment No. 1) was sweepingly unjust and discriminated between the Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel, and recommended that the government make some modifications to the law to prevent this injustice.

The Court noted that its approval of the amendment was motivated by security concerns, was temporary and could and should be amended in a few months when it is next presented for renewal, in order to reflect a balance between security concerns and basic citizen rights.

The Government and the Knesset ignored the judges’ recommendations to modify and improve the law, in some cases even pressing for more discriminate provisions. Indeed, in March 2007, the Knesset enacted a new amendment to the law (Amendment No. 2), which furthered the discrimination already present.

The effect of this amendment was to maintain the family ban with regards to the residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and to expand it further to include residents of a number of countries categorized by Israel as “enemy states” and “in a state of war with Israel”; namely, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Iran.

The 2007 amendment also granted the government the right to expand the list of hostile countries to include “anyone living in an area in which operations that constitute a threat to the State of Israel are being carried out”.

In addition, this amendment (No. 2) recommended examining official requests for family reunification and citizenship (not approving, just considering) only if the husband is at least 36 years old and the wife is 26.  (Arabs usually marry at a younger age than this).

An overseeing body known as the “Special Committee of the Interior Ministry”, which exercises final authority in the authorization of applications on the basis of exceptional and humanitarian cases, considers the applications. Ultimately, though these applicants are husband and wife and are often parents, they would not qualify as a humanitarian or “exceptional” case. This means that marriage, family reunification and the right of children to live with both their parents is not a humanitarian issue that deserves exemption under the internal rules established by the Committee.

So, what are the standards by which to measure whether a case is “humanitarian” or not? In what court of law, before which judge in any legal system in the world would these standards not be condemned as contrary to the most basic human rights?  Even in South Africa, at the height of apartheid, the government cancelled a rule that forbade a black woman and her children from moving in with their father if he lived and worked in a “white” city.

Drawing upon international human rights standards, extensive data compiled by international bodies concerned with human rights, national minorities and issues of citizenship, as well as Israel’s Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty, a coalition of human rights organizations submitted a petition to the Supreme Court in 2007 against “Amendment No. 2” of 2006. The petition stated unequivocally that the law is unconstitutional, and demanded its annulment. The court, in its decision on 11 January 2012, dismissed the petition accepting the amendment and legitimizing its legality. Once again, the decision was made by a majority of six judges against five.

Local and International Condemnation of the Law

The ratification of the law by the Supreme Court of Justice represents the definitive approval of an explicitly racist law that is unparalleled in any democratic country in the world. The ruling effectively closed the door to any further proceedings for the victims of this oppressive law.

This law has faced condemnation not only by Jewish democratic forces in Israel, senior Israeli jurists, and public intellectuals, but also a diverse variety of international associations devoted to human rights, including relevant minority rights bodies within the United Nations, the United States, and the European Union.

Organizations condemning the law include Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the International Federation for Human Rights, as well as the member organizations of the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network and others. The scope and diversity of these organizations attests to the blatant discrimination of a law that constitutionally permits splitting up of families and rendering family life impossible on the basis of national, ethnic and religious discrimination.  The organizations also confirmed that this law is contrary to the “Declaration of Minority Rights” of 1992, and the decision of the European Human Rights Court in 2005 concerning discrimination against certain ethnic groups.

Specifically, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance mandated that laws preventing or combating terrorism must not target people, directly or indirectly, on the basis of nationality, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, language or color.

This law and its amendments constitute a violation of the basic principles of international human rights law, including Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, concerning the right to marry and to found a family, as well as Article 21 of the International Convention for the Prevention of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

In its concluding observations in March 2012, the Special Committee to monitor the application of this Convention, CERD, underlined its concern regarding the law and its enactment by the Israeli Supreme Court as contrary to the principles of equality and non-discrimination, in addition to its violation of Article V, especially regarding the right to nationality, the right to marriage and choosing a spouse.

A Racist and Unconstitutional Law

“The Citizenship and Entry into Israel” law, particularly with its latest amendment is a racist law, based on national, ethnic and religious discrimination among the citizens of Israel.

For Jewish citizens, marrying a foreign person means that the spouse gets a temporary residence permit and full citizenship automatically following their marriage. This is prohibited to the Arab citizen. It is as if the State is saying to the Arab citizen, “If you want to love, marry, and have a family with an Arab or a Palestinian from outside Israel, you have to give up your Israeli citizenship, leave your homeland, your family and friends, your economic, social and cultural life, which you were brought up in, for no other reason except for being an Arab Palestinian!”

This law creates three paths of naturalization and residency in Israel. The first is for Jews, who automatically receive full citizenship and residency as soon as they step foot in Israel. The second, for non-Jewish foreigners who marry a Jew in Israel; they receive temporary residency and then citizenship. The third path is for the Arab citizens, and is the worst.  This path is difficult and racist, and in the overwhelming majority of cases, results in the Arab citizens having to relinquish their Israeli citizenship and immigrate, or in breaking up the family.

This law is unconstitutional due to the following reasons:

1) It prevents people from entering Israel based on their ethnicity, although there are actual and legitimate relations between these persons and others of their own people and nationality who are Israeli citizens.

2) It violates the constitutional right to equality for Arab citizens.

3) It violates the constitutional right to family life, simply because of the ethnicity of the citizen’s partner.

4) It violates the citizen’s freedom and personal autonomy in choosing a spouse and raising a family.

Furthermore, this law is unconstitutional, because it is contrary to and violates international human rights standards, principles of international law, and the fundamental rights of national minorities.  The citizenship law is offensive on a moral and legal level, as it violates personal freedom, privacy and family life. Specifically, it legalizes public and sweeping discrimination against Palestinians, because they belong to a certain national, ethnic and religious group.

Importantly, this law mandates demographic racism towards the rights of Arab citizens in the “Jewish state”, emphasizing that Israel is a state of only some of its citizens. The state treats Arab citizens, who are the indigenous inhabitants of the land since before Israel was created, as a ‘demographic threat’ to its Jewishness.

This law treats an Arab citizen marrying an Arab Palestinian from the Occupied Territories or a “hostile state” (as defined in the law) and having a family in Israel as some kind of conspiracy, intended to destabilize the “Jewish State” and deliberately change its demography.

The security justifications to this law, under the pretext of “territories, hostile countries”, “state of war”, “security risks”, and “terrorism” are invalid and unconstitutional. It is deeply immoral to treat an entire nation, individually and collectively, as hostile and terroristic.  Therefore, the citizenship law is sweeping, absolute and constitutes collective punishment.  It collectively prohibits temporary residency and naturalization, without examining individual cases and their security information.

According to international law, the state may limit the rights and freedom of its citizens in a state of war or related security threats. However, the state is strictly forbidden to continuously implement this on a collective ethnic basis. This legal limitation of freedom should not exclude and invalidate the prohibition of discrimination on ethnic grounds, nor the need for each case to be examined individually.

Israeli authorities have not provided any documented or confirmed statistical information on either the number of Arab families affected by Amendment No. 2 of the Citizenship Law, or the number of Arab residents who have actually threatened security during their stay with their families in Israel.

Only two out of 3,156 who had been granted reunification with their families in Israel (before the above-mentioned amendments) have been sentenced and imprisoned on security grounds. Therefore, security violations by Palestinians are an extreme exception, while the general and prevalent rule under this amendment is collective punishment of thousands of families.

Any state has the right to determine its immigration policy, and to impose certain restrictions accordingly. However, the approval of Amendment No. 2 has nothing to do with immigration. Arab citizens of Israel who marry an Arab from the Occupied Territories are not requesting to immigrate to Israel; they are already Israeli residents and hold Israeli citizenship.

These citizens are asking for their natural right to have their spouses and children living with them in their homeland as legitimate citizens, just as the Israeli Jewish citizens have the right of reunification of their family when they marry a Jew or non-Jew with any foreign nationality. No one is demanding the right for every person from around the world to immigrate to Israel. The demand here is for the right of Arab citizens in Israel to have their spouses and children living in Israel with them as citizens, and not to be deprived of this natural right, because they live in areas that are vaguely and indiscriminately defined as “hostile”.

There is no country in the world that prevents immigration to it in a sweeping manner based on the applicants’ demographic or ethnic origins. A legal and just basis would be to deal with these applications individually, according to specific criteria that are not based on ethnic, religious, or national origins.

A Demand for International Pressure to Repeal this Law

The Arab Association for Human Rights (HRA) confirms its rejection of this law and its amendments as unconstitutional and unjust towards the Arab citizens of Israel. The Citizenship Law is a violation of their right to freedom and human dignity, and is contrary to international law, universal human values and the basic principles of democracy.

A Democracy cannot function under a general prohibition of basic and fundamental human rights. It cannot allow collective punishment, nor can it force citizens to choose between living with their spouse and children abroad, away from their homeland, or separating them and destroying the family in order to remain in their homeland.

The Arab Association for Human Rights believes that this law constitutes blatant discrimination against the Arab citizens, which is supported by the racial policies pursued by the legislative and executive branches in Israel and legitimized in the courts.

According to the Citizenship Law amendment, the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel pose a threat to the security of the state for being Arabs, regardless of any objective basis or proof behind the charges against them. Furthermore, these citizens are provided no opportunity to address these charges before the state. Specifically, the Arab citizen is treated as a “demographic threat” that threatens the Jewishness of the state. Therefore, by legitimizing this law, the Supreme Court is essentially elevating the unsubstantiated pretext of security allegations and the ethnic purity of the state above human values and the right to freedom and human dignity.

The HRA also notes the destructive social, economic, cultural and psychological effects this law has on the family, the children and their future, as it destroys family bonds and fragments families across national borders. Furthermore, the HRA stresses that this law is not simply a grievous error, but is in fact representative of a trend of discrimination that has been exacerbated and intensified over the years.

It is difficult to comprehend the great social and psychological trauma done to spouses and children as a consequence of this law’s implementation. This law creates a generation of children growing up separated from their father or mother, deprived of the moral guidance and role models mothers and fathers are meant to provide.

Divorce, violence, anxiety, social and at times moral deprivation, poverty, crime, drug abuse, the lack of medical care and social insurance as well as the lack of education, etc; these afflictions are a common reality in many of these broken families affected by the law.

This report aims to explain the consequences of this law by presenting the stories of families and individuals, women, children and men, whose daily lives are significantly affected by the law. Their perspectives convey the larger truth of this law.  It is preventing people from enjoying their basic human rights and deprives them of a secure future for themselves and their families.

The Arab Association for Human Rights believes that racism is not an internal matter of the state. This is recognized by the international community, and within this recognition lies international accountability and responsibility for the protection of human rights regardless of nationality and civil status.  Therefore, the HRA calls on the United Nations, the European Union and international institutions dealing with human rights to unite their efforts to put pressure on Israel to repeal this racist, unjust and destructive law. It further urges them to take respect for human rights into account in their dealings and relations with Israel, as well as take prompt and effective measures to pressure Israel to commit to respect and protection of the rights of the Arab minority, including the right to equal citizenship.

Finally, the Arab Association for Human Rights would like to extend its thanks and appreciation to all the individuals and families who testified and presented their personal stories of how the Citizenship Law affects their lives. The HRA hopes that these victims’ testimonies and stories will contribute to the “humanization” of human rights. It is an unfortunate reality that the monitoring and reporting of human rights violations too often lacks the perspective of the “human” owner of these rights.  The real meaning and impact of these violations on human beings is often lost in this process, while the conversation becomes an academic review of sorts that does not reflect the reality and the real concerns of the person who has these rights.

We publish below some of the various testimonials which were taken by the journalist and author Samih Ganadri, on behalf of the HRA. In order to avoid repetition, we published testimonies that reflect the different aspects and tragic consequences of the “Citizenship and Entry into Israel” Law, Amendment No.2.

We would like to note that at the request of the people, we had to change names and some personal information in some testimonies, without compromising the substance.

We also note that we have not published everything we saw and heard, out of respect for the dignity, rights and privacy of the families who shared their stories with us.

Tomorrow, we will be publishing the first story, titled “The Father is in the Drawer”.

Keep up with the HRA online! Check out our website. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

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7 thoughts on ““Stripping Citizenship” Story Series: Background

  1. Pingback: “Stripping Citizenship” Story Series: “The Father is in the Drawer” | Arab Association for Human Rights

  2. Pingback: “Stripping Citizenship” Story Series #2: “Is There an End to this Displacement?” | Arab Association for Human Rights

  3. Pingback: “Stripping Citizenship” Story Series #3: “My Wildest Dream” | Arab Association for Human Rights

  4. Pingback: “Stripping Citizenship” Story Series #4: “The Hidden… The Present… The Family of the Dead… The Living ” | Arab Association for Human Rights

  5. Pingback: “Stripping Citizenship” Story Series #5: “Love in the Time of Apartheid” | Arab Association for Human Rights

  6. Pingback: Comité pour une Paix Juste au Proche Orient » Lettre Infos CPJPO du 14 octobre 2012

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