“Stripping Citizenship” Story Series #5: “Love in the Time of Apartheid”

All this week the Arab Association for Human Rights (HRA) has been publishing the contents of its newest report, “Stripping Citizenship”, in serialized updates here and on our website. These stories were reported and written by Samih Ganadri and edited internally by the HRA. Each story intends to display the human consequences of the discriminatory legislation and to show you reality of an often underrepresented minority.  This fifth installment marks the end of our series.

To see the first post including relevant background information and the preface to the report, click here.

So, without further delay, we present the fifth and final story of “Stripping Citizenship”:

Love in the Time of Apartheid

Tayseer Khateeb is a young man from Acre, born in 1973.  In 2002, he visited the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank in order to gather information for his PhD studies about the identity of Palestinian refugees.  He had completed his Masters degree in Anthropology at a German university, and had received a scholarship from a Canadian university for his doctoral studies. Officials in Jenin directed him to the Ministry of Health office, where he met the staff member in charge, Lana Khateeb, who was born in 1978.

What happened between them was like a magnetic field. “I was drawn to her” says Tayseer; “I was drawn to him” says Lana.  Tayseer had planned on returning to the office in Jenin in a week to collect the information that the “staff member” was preparing for him, but he was back the next day. Tayseer said he had returned “not only for the information,” while Lana said, “I was surprised to see him the next day, but I was waiting and expecting it.” I met with each of them separately.

Love in a time of war

His visits continued. Despite the barriers, their love and affection grew deeper, and even while the Jenin camp was, at the time, under a violent military invasion, aimed at striking the resistance to the occupation. They decided to get engaged. At first, Lana’s parents were reluctant to agree to this relationship, because they were concerned for their daughter’s fate. She would have to go to Canada, where Tayseer was continuing his academic studies. Would they return after he graduated? If they did return, who would ensure Lana’s citizenship in Israel? At the time, Amendment No. 1 of the Citizenship Law, which would prevent this, had been issued.

“A love that no barriers, military rifles or laws could prevent,” says Tayseer. He adds, “There is no law in the entire world that can prevent and forbid love.”  It has been ten years since the amendment was issued, and “Palestinian Arabs, on both sides of the border, are continuing to fall in love and get married” said Lana when we met in March 2012. Lana’s family in Jenin is educated, intellectual and progressive, and Lana graduated from university with a degree in business administration. They got engaged with their parents’ blessing in 2003. Tayseer traveled to Canada on his own, planning to return in six months to get married and take his wife back with him. Then, Tayseer’s mother became severely ill, needing to spend days at a time in the hospital. Because Tayseer’s father had died and he was an only child, he returned to Acre to be with his mother.

While Tayseer stopped his PhD studies, his relationship with Lana continued and became even more serious. For months, he spent his time traveling between his ill mother in the hospitals and nursing homes, and crossing checkpoints and traveling on rugged bypass roads to visit his beloved who was besieged in Jenin. How could he marry her and bring her to Acre? Particularly since the occupation only understands the language of the rifle. The law does not understand the language of human communication as it legislates with the language of separation and division.

In 2005, Tayseer found the solution to their problem by taking advantage of a loophole in the law, which allows first degree relatives to visit their family in exceptional cases, such as a serious illness. Tayseer’s mother was very sick. Lana was his fiancée, as they had gotten engaged before he had gone to Canada.  Thus, Lana and her mother were able to get a permit to visit Tayseer’s mother for two days. Lana came to Acre and through advance planning, the wedding hall was ready, and they had their wedding.

The morning after the wedding, the bride left her husband’s house in Acre and returned to Jenin. Tayseer smiles as he is telling me this story, and says: “Where in the world would you find a married couple who got married in the evening and are forced to part ways the next day? Anyway, it is better than her staying with me and finding herself in prison, on the second night of her wedding.”

Over the next eight months, Tayseer visited his wife in Jenin on a weekly basis. Lana could visit her husband in Acre once a month and only for a day or two, depending on the “mercy” of the security forces, and by proving that Tayseer’s mother is still very ill. A wife visiting her husband in their home is not a humanitarian issue that requires violating the law that prohibits people from a “hostile state” from entering Israel.

However, Tayseer is an academic intellectual, and a brave man who does not give up. He took advantage of another loophole in the law, which authorizes the examination of reunification requests (not approval, just consideration) if the wife is older than 25 years old.  He enlisted all his abilities and awareness of his rights, as well as the local and international media, and declared a “war” on the Israeli state and its laws.

Israel, a superpower, is waging a war on a husband and wife, aimed at preventing them from living together. Israel started this war. “We will not surrender nor give up on our right to fight back, to wage a peaceful, empirical and legal war in order to ensure our family’s well-being. We will see who will win.” says Tayseer. Then he adds, “Israel has even distorted our language and our conception. We talk about a war, about battles, victory and defeat while the entire issue is about a wife’s right to sleep next to her husband, to live in her own home. This is reality, not reason. I doubt whether Eugène Ionesco could have imagined or created such absurdity in his literature of the absurd”.

Lana recalls her fleeting visits to Acre to see her husband. She tells me bitter stories of crossing the borders each time, and about one specific incident that happened in Acre. Tayseer’s car had broken down when he needed to bring Lana home on the second day of her visit (in accordance with the duration of the permit). Lana had to stay for an additional day, while Tayseer went to fix the car. While she was at home, she heard a knock at the door; she was not expecting anyone, other than the security forces. Her heart started racing and she began to sweat. She ran into the closet and hid there.  She heard the apartment door opening, and footsteps walking throughout the house and coming towards the closet. She felt suffocated; they would now take her to prison and then back to Jenin. She would not see her husband again after today, and all her hopes of getting temporary residence were ending. Her file would now be tainted with a serious “criminal security” violation, which was remaining in her marital home a few more hours than was allowed. She was suffocating and felt she would die; she lost consciousness, and when she woke up, there was no one in the house. Later, she found out that those who had entered her house were Tayseer’s friends who had come to visit.

In most cases of marriage between Arabs from the Occupied Territories and Arab citizens of Israel, the husband is usually from the Occupied Territories. However, in this case, Tayseer is the citizen. For that reason they cannot presume that he got married in order to live in Israel, or to carry out sabotage, or any other security violation in Israel. Despite these facts, the Israeli authorities refuse to give his wife Israeli citizenship or even temporary residence.

However, Tayseer succeeded in winning his “war” on Israel. In 2006, he secured the right of temporary residence for his wife from the clutches of the Israeli authorities. This temporary residence needs to be renewed annually. Each year, and for three months before the temporary residence expires, the family goes through a painstaking “battle” of reviews and submission of papers. They have to bear the rudeness and intrusion of security personnel into their personal and private affairs, in addition to the disgraceful offers of a relief from state policy in exchange for betraying their family’s national dignity and patriotism. At times it reaches the point where a security officer advises Lana to divorce her husband. These months of grief finally ended with the “victory” for the couple. They won the right to continue to live together, at least temporarily, for another year. That was their situation until today, April 2012.

Tayseer returned to his PhD studies at Haifa University.  His dissertation was on “Identity”.  He now works as a lecturer in the Western Galilee College in Acre, teaching Arab and Jewish students. He also works as a “creative writing” coach in the Jenin Theater. His wife, Lana, lives with him (always temporarily), and they are raising their two children together; their older son, Adnan, who was born in 2007, and their younger daughter, Yusra, who was born in 2008.

Tayseer is constantly busy with his work, his studies and his social democratic activities, to the end of securing full citizenship for his wife. As he is the only provider for the family, the expense of dealing with these issues affects their household financial capacities, but he doesn’t complain. What worries and bothers their family is securing citizenship for Lana, his wife and the mother of his children.

The issue of citizenship constantly concerns Lana; every year, she is fearful they will refuse to renew her temporary residence. Not only that, she says that, in general, when people read about the problem of family reunification, the first thing they think of is the possibility of banishing the spouse. However, the reality is much more complicated and complex; the lives of the entire family changes, as they are tested financially, socially and psychologically. She and her children are always weighed down by the absence of permanent citizenship, because of this racism and discrimination that reaches the extent of apartheid.

Lana, like other spouses, does not have an Israeli ID because she is a temporary resident, which means that she is deprived from the right to work, drive a car, or have social and health insurance. She is “absent”, while “present” in Israel. She is temporary. She is incomplete. She is just someone’s wife. She has no free personal entity that gives her the right to work, be active, productive and a self-fulfilling member in society. This has a social and psychological impact on her, her husband, and their children.

In Jenin, in a somewhat conservative society, which is under occupation and the siege and bombardment of Israel’s Apache helicopters and buzzing bullets, Lana was a free and independent single woman. She used to work, drive her car, and be socially active. She planned to build a career and earn a higher academic degree. Lana says; “Here I am, in my home in Acre with my husband, a prisoner in my own home. I am confined in the house, despite the fact that I am an ambitious person, I have my goals, I have an academic degree, I want to work and be fulfilled. I want to contribute to the household expenses, and the raising of my children. Even our children are affected by the tense atmosphere in which they live as a result of my temporary residence.”

I met the two children, Adnan and Yusra. They love to travel to Jenin and visit their maternal uncles, cousins, and grandmother. Their father Tayseer is an only child, so they do not have any paternal uncles or aunts, and Tayseer’s mother, their grandmother, is in a nursing home. In spite of this, the children are afraid of going to Jenin with their parents. Adnan says, “The policeman, who has a gun, takes my mother from the car.” Yusra says, “I am scared; the policeman doesn’t take us with my mother. He takes her on her own, and I start to cry.”

Tayseer tells me that the security forces at the Jenin checkpoint always take his wife and her bags to a side room, because she does not have an Israeli ID.  He and the children wait for her in the car. His wife is subjected to a humiliating search, and even a more degrading interrogation. She is sometimes gone for a long time, and the children start to cry. How can you explain to them the reason why the police, who are heavily armed with guns, only take their mother? How can you assure them that she will return to them?

Tayseer and Lana have to traverse a painful, bitter and humiliating road, with their scared and crying children in order to visit her family.  Lana’s family lives in Jenin, and like all the people living in the Occupied Territories, are barred from entering Israel. However, for Tayseer’s family, just like other Arab families, it would be inconceivable not to stay in touch with family and relatives, despite the checkpoints and difficulties. Lana says, “Although Jenin is only 50 km away from Acre, my family is forbidden to visit me, and I am forced to cross painful and bitter miles in order to see them.”

Tayseer said to me: “Our problem now is our children. As they grow older, the tragedy grows bigger. The latest media hype about the amendment to the Citizenship Law, in addition to the media’s visits to our house, and the conversations we share, has aroused Adnan’s and Yusra’s attention. I do not know what they have heard or understood, but they are getting more and more attached to their mother. It’s like an illness. When they are at home, they never leave her alone even for one second. They follow her around the house, clinging to her clothes, and when she sits, they sit in her lap and hold her hand.  I think they understand that someone evil is trying to steal their mother away from them. Yusra used to love to go to kindergarten, but now she cries when we wake her up in the morning. She does not stop crying unless her mother goes with her. At the kindergarten’s door, she screams and cries because her mother is going to leave her alone. When she sees her mother at noon coming to pick her up, she jumps with joy, can’t stop talking and hangs on to her mother hugging and kissing her.”

In one of the recent demonstrations to protest the Citizenship Law’s amendments and their codification by the Supreme Court of Justice, I watched Lana as she was shouting, and giving statements to the media about herself and her husband. She said, “Palestine is my homeland, and we did not extort Jewish land, nor visited them against their will. Israel is the one who usurped our lands, and “visited” us against our will and without permission. Acre is my town and my home, this is my husband, and those are my children. There is no law in the world that can change these facts, nor prohibit the love between members of the same nation. If you meet me outside the borders, I shall return.  I am originally from Saffuriyya village; you expelled my father from Saffuriyya in 1948. Today, I will not let you expel me from my home and keep me away from my husband.”

Lana has broken the barrier of fear, and she is no longer hiding in the closet anymore, Tayseer whispered to me and said, “I am originally from “Al Manshiyya” and “Mia’ar” villages.  If Israel wants to deport us to Jenin in order to keep our family together, we will tell them that we will not leave Acre, the town which has become our home, unless we return to “Al Manshiyya”, or “Mia’ar”, or “Saffuriyya”. Will Israel accept this trade-off?!”

Tayseer’s family is not originally from Acre, nor is Lana’s family originally from Jenin. Tayseer’s family took “refuge” in Acre; his mother was displaced from Al Manshiyya village, and his father from Mia’ar. Both villages were destroyed by the Jewish forces and their people expelled during the Nakba in 1948. Lana’s father and many of her relatives in Jenin are refugees from the village of Saffuriyya, near Nazareth, which was also destroyed during the Nakba. Israel has built a settlement called “Tzipori” on the remains of the village, in order to hide the evidence of their crime, and to accommodate the new Jewish immigrants from around the world, who enjoy the right of citizenship on the ruins of the Arab village.

A refugee in his homeland, whose parents are also both refugees, meets a refugee, a daughter of a refugee family in the Jenin refugee camp. They fall in love, get married, have two children, but still they continue on being refugees. There are still barriers and walls preventing members of one family, one nation, to unite. Tayseer’s and Lana’s only fault is that they were born as Arab Palestinians in their homeland.

Will the world believe this unrealistic and absurd reality? The world believed the fictional story: “Love in the time of Cholera” by the writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  So why won’t they believe this real story of Tayseer, Lana and their children Adnan, and Yusra? This story’s heroes are alive. They are the victim, the witness, the novel, and the narrator. Their novel is called: “Love in the time of the Apartheid.”

– – –

For relevant background information and the preface to the report, click here.

To read the first story in our series “The Father is in the Drawer”, click here.

To read the second story in our series “Is there an end to this displacement”, click here.

To read the third story in our series “My Wildest Dream”, click here.

To read the fourth story in our series “The Hidden… The Present … The Family of the Dead… The Living”, click here.

“Stripping Citizenship was reported and written by Samih Ganadri. It was edited and published internally by the Arab Association for Human Rights.  If you would like a physical copy of the full report, please send an email to hra1@arabhra.org.

“Stripping Citizenship” Story Series #4: “The Hidden… The Present… The Family of the Dead… The Living ”

All this week 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. These stories were reported and written by Samih Ganadri and edited internally by the HRA. Each story intends to display the human consequences of the discriminatory legislation and to show you reality of an often underrepresented minority.

To see the first post including relevant background information and the preface to the report, click here.

So, without further delay, we present the fourth story of “Stripping Citizenship”:

The Hidden… The Present

The Family of the Dead… The Living

She refused to give me her name, or any personal information about herself, her husband or her family. She fears that the published information would expose her identity, since she is still living in Israel with her husband and her children. I promised her repeatedly that I would change the information that I will publish regarding her identity, without compromising the facts, so that no one would figure out who she was. She said that she believed me, and agreed to meet with me. But, ‘caution is required’.

She added that even her friends and her husband’s acquaintances know her by different names and varied information. She does not want to be surprised one day by the security forces surrounding her home, in a town somewhere in the Naqab, to be torn away from her husband and her children, thrown in prison, and deported across the border to Gaza if she is identified. Accused of ‘entering and living illegally in Israel’, despite the fact that her husband is an Arab with Israeli citizenship, and she is a mother to Arab children who also have Israeli citizenship.

I jokingly suggested that we name her ‘The dead’. At first, she was afraid, “Dead people don’t speak”. She came around to the joke, though, and said, “I really am dead to life, and so is my family, my husband and children, although we are alive. If the dead heard my story, they would cry in pity and be frightened by this kind of life. They would thank God for his mercy in their death from such a life, a life that requires me to pretend not to exist, to disappear even though I exist, to be dead, although I am alive.” After a sad silence, she said, “Write that my name is ‘the Hidden’ from the ‘dead’ family”.

She is from Gaza. She is an educated and intellectual woman, who graduated from high school with honors many years ago in Gaza. She was planning to study law. While she was in Gaza, she met an Arab man from the Naqab area, who was visiting his relatives in Gaza. (At the time, entering and leaving Gaza was permitted). His relatives in Gaza were her family’s, the ‘dead’ family’s, neighbors.

They both fell in love. She would wait for weeks and months for him to visit his relatives again. The more he visited, the more they fell in love and their attachment grew. They tied the knot in Gaza shortly after Amendment No. 1 of the Citizenship law was issued. However, their love was much stronger than the limitations and prohibitions of the law.

‘The Hidden’ talked impulsively, nonstop. Like a stream of water, sweeping from a high elevation after a heavy rain that doesn’t stop, a mute who has had her tongue untied. A person who has had a rock shifted from her chest, and the silencer removed from her mouth.  Emotions trapped for many years were released, a repressed story that finally found the right to tell itself. During our first meeting, her withered, broken eyes lit up and shone brightly when she started to tell her story.

Suddenly, ‘the Hidden’, started to cry bitterly, “Please forgive me, protect my story and my family.  I am forbidden to speak, so I can stay here with my family, my husband and my children, so I can maintain my right to be a mother and a wife in my homeland.”  I assured her that I would keep her secret. She smiled contently, and as she was saying goodbye, said, “Do not forget that my name is ‘the Hidden’, but my husband’s name is ‘Al Asmar’ (the Dark One), since his skin tone is dark.” Then she suddenly became serious again and said, “What have I done?  I have revealed my husband’s color, so she asked me to name him ‘Al Ashqar’ (the Blond), but I told her I will name him ‘Al Asmar’ (the Dark One).  Tens of thousands of Naqab residents have dark skin. I hope that the reader will forgive me for not telling all the painful, stressful and horrifying stories of persecution and suffering that ‘the Hidden’ and ‘Al Asmar’ have endured, in order to keep my promise of preserving the family’s identity. Their only fault was that they considered the law of love, and the inclusive human right to have a family, above the racist Israeli law of preventing Arabs, living on both sides of the ‘green line’, from their citizenship and family life simply because they are Arabs.

Therefore, I limit myself to relating these brief facts:

  • ‘The Hidden’ received a permit to enter Israel from Gaza for two days under the pretext of visiting a relative who was undergoing a serious operation at a hospital in Israel. She then married her fiancé in the Naqab. She and ‘Al Asmar’ have two marriage certificates; one in Gaza, and another in Israel. She lived temporarily in a village in Israel, but the ‘Erez’ checkpoint (a checkpoint between Gaza and Israel) records show that she returned to Gaza.
  • ‘The Hidden’ maintains infrequent contact with her family in Gaza through her husband “Al Asmar” and her children. On rare occasions, ‘Al Asmar’ and his children receive an official permit to visit Gaza to see his wife, although she is living with them here, in Israel. Naturally, she cannot request a permit to visit her parents in Gaza, because according to official records, she lives there. In addition, her parents cannot request permission to visit their daughter here, because, according to the records, she lives with them in Gaza.
  • ‘The Hidden’ doesn’t work or study in Israel, because she doesn’t have an Israeli identity card, and does not officially live here. Her dream of studying law is lost. All she can dream of right now is finding a lawyer who can help her get citizenship, or even residence here so she can openly live with her husband and children, in their own home.
  • ‘The Hidden’ is a prisoner in her own home. She avoids leaving the house as much as possible. Whenever she hears a police siren passing in her area, or sees people she thinks are suspicious near her home; she locks herself in the closet and hides. She also avoids using public transportation. She avoids going out with her husband and children to any nearby Jewish town, whether it is to shop or to celebrate the holidays in an amusement park. All the masks and disguises she might wear, and all the plans she may turn to will not be able to help her if a policeman asks her for her ID.
  • How does she get treatment when she gets sick? There are many humanitarian and Arab doctors in nearby clinics. Sometimes she uses her friends’ health insurance cards, and gets treatment pretending to be someone else.
  • ‘Al Asmar’ has applied for reunification for his wife many times, but the requests have been denied by the Israeli authorities, on the grounds that Israeli law does not permit this. Reuniting a woman with her husband and children, in one home, is not considered a “special humanitarian case” that the authorities should take into account.
  • ‘The Hidden’ exists. The ‘dead’ family is alive. What this mother and wife fears most is that she would really become hidden, when she is discovered and is deprived from living with her husband and children. She also fears that her parents from the ‘dead’ family will die before they see one another again.
  • ‘Al Asmar’, the husband and father, says that death would be easier than seeing his wife being banished from him and his children. His concerns reached the point where he had refused to meet me, or even talk to me on the phone. He said to his wife, “Tell him to consider me dead in the report he is writing about us.”

I don’t know you, ‘Al Asmar’, but I understand you and your concerns. I hope that you forgive me when you read this report, and discover that I did not keep my word and write that you are dead. Your story is alive, you are alive, and you have to stay alive, sitting on Israel’s and the world’s conscience. ‘Al Asmar’, you exist and are alive, your wonderful, heroic wife ‘the Hidden’ is alive. What is dead is the state’s conscience, what is hidden is the law’s justice. A law approved by the court, which calls itself the “Supreme Court of Justice”, requires those who exist to hide, while present. It requires those living to die, while they are alive.

– – –

For relevant background information and the preface to the report, click here.

To read the first story in our series “The Father is in the Drawer”, click here.

To read the second story in our series “Is there an end to this displacement”, click here.

To read the third story in our series “My Wildest Dream”, click here.

“Stripping Citizenship was reported and written by Samih Ganadri. It was edited and published internally by the Arab Association for Human Rights.  If you would like a physical copy of the full report, please send an email to hra1@arabhra.org.

NEW REPORT: “Stripping Citizenship: The Impact of the Citizenship Law Amendments on Palestinian Families in Israel”

Mohammad Zeidan, HRA General Director, presents the new report to local Arabic media representatives in the HRA’s Nazareth office

Nazareth – The Arab Association for Human Rights (HRA)  would like to announce the release of our newest report. “Stripping Citizenship: The Impact of the Citizenship Law Amendments on Palestinian Families in Israel” represents an effort to tell the story of the human impact of Israel’s discriminatory Citizenship Law. The report researched and reported by Samih Ganadri and published by the HRA in Arabic and English.  We are proud to present what we believe to be an accurate reflection of the personal tragedies caused by the law in question.

Specifically, “Stripping Citizenship” is a critique of the May 2002 amendments to the “Citizenship and Entry into Israel” law.  Under the law, Arab Palestinian citizens of Israel cannot obtain citizenship for the person they choose to marry if this person is from the West Bank or the Gaza Strip. In addition to this core ruling, the amendments – which are ostensibly temporary and have been renewed annually since their inception – install exhaustive bureaucratic measures which prevent families from living together and create numerous barriers for visitation.  The report details briefly the legal case against the amendments but focuses on exploring how the intricacies of the ruling affect individuals.

The stories in this report are tragic and heart wrenching.  One woman, Nellie Abu Qa’od, was happily married in Jaffa when the law was passed.  Under the auspices of this new legislation her husband, Samir Kallab, was arrested and, in her words, “taken from me and our two children and dumped in Gaza. I am a citizen and my husband was no longer a citizen, he had become an ‘intruder’”.  Nellie can only visit Samir after obtaining a permit.  She has only been able to do so twice since his arrest in 2003.  Samir’s daughters have grown up without a father because of the new amendments to the Citizenship Law.

The HRA is proud to present the story of Samir and Nellie, and four others like it, for your consideration in “Stripping Citizenship”.  It is the sincere hope of our organization that these stories help prove the inherent discrimination in the text and application of the “Citizenship and Entry intoIsrael” law.

This afternoon the HRA held a press conference to release the report.  Local and national media outlets were on hand to cover the publication of “Stripping Citizenship”.

“Stripping Citizenship” is available to the public now.  You can pick up physical copies for free in our Nazareth office and over the next week we will be publishing the individual stories in serial updates. They will be published on our websiteour WordPress page, and delivered via the HRA newsletter (sign up here!).  While reading these stories, keep in mind that there are many people suffering similar struggles and that the individuals we present for your consideration represent a much larger issue.

“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”.

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