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Family Reunification, Citizenship and the Jewish State

Family Reunification, Citizenship and the Jewish State

 UN Treaty Bodies Call Upon Israel to Revoke New Laws

In July 2003 the Israeli government adopted a temporary law prohibiting family reunification for Palestinians married to Palestinian spouses from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The decision followed a previous decision taken earlier in May 2003 (Decision 1813).
International human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch sent a joint letter to the Knesset, Israel's parliament, urging members to reject the bill. "The draft law barring family reunification for Palestinian spouses of Israeli citizens is profoundly discriminatory," stated Amnesty. "A law permitting such blatant racial discrimination, on grounds of ethnicity or nationality, would clearly violate international human rights law and treaties which clearly violate international human rights law and treaties which Israel has ratified and pledged to uphold." B'tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, was equally critical of the law. "This is a racist law that decides who can live here according to racist criteria."

Information concerning this issue was brought before the 78th session of the UN Human Rights Committee (UN HRC), which reviewed Israel's second periodic report on July 24-25, 2003. In its Concluding Observations on Israel, para. 21, issued on August 6, 2003, the Committee called upon Israel to revoke the law and reconsider its family unification policy, even though the law was passed after the dialogue with Israel.

On 5 August 2003 The International Federation for Human Rights and its affiliate and partner organizations in Israel, ACRI - The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Adalah - The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, B'Tselem - The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, HaMoked, the Mosawa Center - the Advocacy Center for Arab Palestinian Citizens of Israel, requested that CERD consider a new Israeli law adopted on July 31, 2003 and entitled, "Nationality and Entry into Israel Law (Temporary Order) - 2003" for an urgent procedure. On August 14 2003 the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD/C/63/Misc.11/Rev.1, 14 August 2003) called upon Israel to 'revoke' the new ban on family unification law, and to 'reconsider its policy with a vew to facilitating family unification on a non-discriminatory basis.
Concluding Observations of the UN Human Rights Committee
The Committee is concerned about Israel's temporary suspension order of May 2002, enacted into law as the Nationality and Entry into Israel Law (Temporary Order) on 31 July 2003, which suspends for a renewable one-year period, the possibility of family reunification, subject to limited and subjective exceptions especially in the cases of marriages between an Israeli citizen and a person residing in the West Bank and in Gaza. The Committee notes with concern that the suspension order of May 2002 has already adversely affected thousands of families and marriages.
The State party should revoke the Nationality and Entry into Israel Law (Temporary Order) of 31 July 2003, which raises serious issues under articles 17, 23 and 26 of the Covenant. The State party should reconsider its policy with a view to facilitating family reunification of all citizens and permanent residents. It should provide detailed statistics on this issue, covering the period since the examination of the initial report.
It's not the current number of requests that matters, but rather the potential size of the breach: Even if the government adamantly stands its ground, saying that no right of return will ever be honoured (and there already have been proposals, of differing levels of sophistication, to allow a limited, regulated law of return), the continuation of family reunification trends is liable to change Israel's character.
Preventing the right of citizenship to Palestinians who marry and Israeli citizen constitutes an infringement of principles of democracy and equal rights. But these must be balanced against the basic right enjoyed by members of the Jewish majority of the country to preserve the state's character, which is defined as a Jewish state in the country's founding declarations and whose status as a state for the Jewish nation has been supported via the legislation of the law of return. Under this law, the state has the right to limit entry into it under criteria selected to protect its national-cultural character, along with its public order and security.
Avraham Tal, "A Legal Fence for the State," Ha'aretz, 11 August 2003.