Analysis of Israel’s New Family Reunification Law

The following analysis of Israel’s new law is excerpted from Adalah's submission to the UN Human Rights Committee in July 2003.

According to Adalah, “the introduction of this racist and discriminatory ban on family unification shows the increasing deterioration in the political situation in Israel. It is one of the most extreme measures in a series of governmental acti ons aimed at undermining the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel as well as Palestinians from the Occupied Territories.”

The ban on family unification of Palestinians from the Occupied Territories married to Israeli citizens:
1. Severely violates the fundamental rights of individuals to family life, dignity, privacy, and equality. The ICCPR, the ICESCR, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child prohibit the arbitrary interference with these fundamental rights. In particular, the ban on family unification contravenes Articles 17 and 23(1) of the ICCPR, which protect the family.

2. Flagrantly discriminates against Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinians from the Occupied Territories. In practice, the ban would primarily affect Palestinian citizens of Israel, who are most likely to have non-citizen Palestinian spouses. The total ban on family unification exclusively and solely targets Palestinians from the Occupied Territories; the gradual process of naturalization for residency and citizenship status in Israel for all other "foreign spouses" remains unchanged. These measures constitute discrimination on the basis of nationality in violation of Articles 26 and 27 of the ICCPR. Article 1 of the International Convention of All Forms of Racial Discrimination prohibits such discrimination in matters relating to the right to citizenship.

3. Is disproportionate as the alleged security reasons cited by the state for the necessity of the measures lack any basis. The state claims that the ban is essential because Palestinians from Occupied Territories who have obtained citizenship/residency status in Israel via family unification have been increasingly involved in terror activity. Contradictory data presented by the government at a 18 July 2003 Knesset hearing shows that this argument is flawed.


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.

Senior officials from the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Justice who testified before the Knesset Committee stated that since 1993, 100,000-140,000 Palestinians have been granted official status in Israel following family unification. In response to inquiries by Knesset Committee members, these officials later revised these figures, admitting that only 22,414 requests for status were submitted by Palestinians, out of which 16,007 were approved and 6,400 were rejected.

However, these officials failed to answer whether the number of applications submitted equaled the number of individuals who actually sought status or whether these figures merely represented multiple applications submitted by each individual. They also failed to provide numbers as to how many individuals actually received status after approval of their applications. The officials then contended that 20 Palestinians from the Occupied Territories who received status in Israel via family unification have been involved in some type of terror activity. No detailed, specific examples were provided at the hearing to support these claims.

Given the fundamental rights at stake, imposing a total ban on family unification for Palestinians from the Occupied Territories is completely disproportionate. The state has many other tools and mechanisms, which it has utilized and continues to utilize in order to address security concerns. The gradual process of naturalization grants the government wide authority to conduct criminal and security background checks on all persons seeking to gain citizenship/residency status in Israel.

Throughout the four-years long process - from the initial application for status, to the renewal of status, to the upgrading of status, to the granting of citizenship - security checks are conducted. By setting forth such a sweeping measure, the proposed ban collectively punishes all Palestinian residents of the Occupied Territories as well as Palestinian citizens of Israel. Security concerns cannot justify such extreme measures, as set forth by the ban.

4. Actually aims to limit the number of Palestinian citizens/residents of Israel, the so-called "demographic threat" to maintaining a Jewish majority in the state, and not the security concerns as presented by the government as the justification for these measures. Numerous facts support this argument.

This ban is being presented in the wake of and to bypass the Supreme Court's 1999 decision in Stamka. In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that anyone who marries an Israeli citizen is entitled to equal treatment in the processing of his/her application for citizenship in Israel, provided that there is no criminal or security risk proven against the individual. Based on this 1999 decision, in 2003, the Minister of Interior was supposed to start granting citizenship to individuals who passed a four-year application process. Seemingly, to avoid the granting of citizenship to Palestinians from the Occupied Territories who have completed this process, the government now comes forward with security excuses to justify the measures set forth in this ban. In addition, Government Decision No.

1813 clearly states that there is a need for such a policy due to "... the implications of the processes of immigration and settlement in Israel of foreigners of Palestinian descent." Further, former Minister of Interior Eli Yishai told Ha'aretz on 9 January 2002 that he "believes there is a pressing need to find ways to limit the number of non-Jews who receive Israeli citizenship, among them Arabs, whose numbers have increased dramatically in recent years and 'threaten the Jewish character of the State of Israel.'"

Source: Adalah, UN Human Rights Committee - Information Sheet #3, Family Reunification and Citizenship (22 July 2003). For more information see the Adalah website: