Arab anger over Israel’s ‘racist’ marriage law

Palestinians shop at a market in the old city of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank. (AFP file photo)
Palestinians shop at a market in the old city of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 12 March 2022

Arab anger over Israel’s ‘racist’ marriage law

Palestinians shop at a market in the old city of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank. (AFP file photo)
  • Israel says the law, which was first enacted during a Palestinian uprising, is needed for security

AMMAN: Israel has renewed a temporary law, dating back to 2003, that bars Israeli citizens from extending citizenship or even residency to Palestinian spouses from the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

In a 45-15 vote, the Knesset passed in the second and third reading the citizenship law that makes it next to impossible for the reunification of families even if one spouse is an Israeli citizen.

Critics view it as a racist measure aimed at maintaining the country’s Jewish majority. The law discriminates against Palestinians, and does not apply to Jewish settlers in the West Bank as they already have Israeli citizenship.

The Knesset failed to pass the law last summer because it did not have the support of left-wing and Arab members of the governing coalition.

The Haifa-based Mossawa Center said that the law discriminates against the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Jafar Farah, director of the center, told Arab News that this law would continue to cause pain to thousands of families.

“Imagine that a Jewish settler family is free to move and live on either side of the green line while this law will be discriminatory against Arab citizens of Israel married to West Bank or Gaza residents,” he said.

Jessica Montell, executive director of the HaMoked Center for the Defense of the Individual, plans to challenge the law in the Israeli High Court.

She told Arab News that the Knesset’s re-passage of the ban on Palestinian family unification was a sad day for equality and basic rights.

“Under the guise of security concerns, the law advances a demographic agenda, with particularly harsh implications for East Jerusalem Palestinians,” she said.

The law, which needs to be re-approved every year, also bars marriage with citizens of “enemy states,” including Lebanon and Iraq. But it is widely seen as targeting Palestinians, who have a vast number of spouses to whom the law applies.

The new legislation even includes a section declaring that the law aims “to protect Israel’s Jewish majority” and sets up quotas on permits approved for “exceptional humanitarian cases.”

It also empowers the Israeli interior minister to charge Palestinians married to Israelis with espionage or terrorism if they are caught traveling with their spouses.

Haifa-based Diana Butto, former legal advisor to the Palestinian negotiating team, told Arab News that racism is what has motivated the law’s approval.

“This law is meant to bar Palestinians from living a normal life with their loved ones and to further isolate Palestinians in Israel from the Arab world,” Butto said.

Ofer Zalzberg, Middle East program director at the Herbert Kelman Institute for Conflict Transformation, told Arab News that the nature of the ban stems from Israel’s reliance on security arguments.

“The ban underlines the absence of an Israeli immigration policy. Immigration policies can pursue a balance between the rights of couples seeking marriage and the state’s national character,” he said.

Botrus Mansour, a Nazareth-based lawyer, told Arab News that the exclusive and discriminatory approach against Palestinians continues despite the change in government and including an Arab party in the coalition.

“This derives from the urge to maintain Israel as a Jewish country and thus to strive to confront the demographic challenge. This is compatible with Israel’s approach to closing its doors in the face of refugees from Ukraine unless they are Jewish”" he said.

Rima Najjar, a Palestinian blogger and activist, told Arab News that the law exposes the Israeli fiction of being both a Jewish and, at the same time, democratic state.

“The Jewish supremacist nature of the Zionist state will never be eradicated through politics as usual in a racist, apartheid system. What is needed is a radical path,” she said.

Yousef Munayyer a nonresident senior fellow at the Arab Center, Washington DC, told Arab News that the reinstitution of a blatantly racist law is a message to the world from Israel that “all of the human rights groups who have been decrying its Apartheid policies are absolutely correct.”

Some Israeli lawmakers, though, tried to justify the law.

“I pass the law with a heavy heart and without joy. I would like to get to a point where we do not need this law … but in the current security reality, we can do nothing but defend ourselves,” said Knesset member Ram Ben Barak from the Yesh Atid group.