Law that discriminates against Palestinian families in Israel set to expire after 18 years

The Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law was not renewed after a vote in the Knesset resulted in a tie. The law effectively separates Palestinians in the occupied territories from their spouses who are citizens of Israel

July 06, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
Photo : Members of Arab Joint List celebrating the defeat of the extension motion in the Israeli parliament after the vote on Monday, July 6. Photo : The Times of Israel

A controversial law that discriminated against Palestinian families in Israel is set to expire on Tuesday after 18 years. The Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law failed to win majority support in the Israeli parliament on Monday, June 5. The vote to extend the temporary law, first passed in 2003, saw a 59-59 tie with Israel’s ultra-right parties voting along with the Joint List (an alliance of four Arab-majority parties) to defeat the motion for its extension in a blow to the coalition government led by Naftali Bennett.   

The law was originally passed amidst the second intifada and refuses citizenship and even permanent residencies to Palestinians in the occupied territories whose spouses are Israeli citizens. This was later extended to residents of some other Arab countries too. Palestinians thus have to apply for temporary permits to even live with their spouses in Israel.

Earlier in the day, thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel came out and protested the proposed extension of the controversial law which blocks the unification of their families. 

Ahmed Tibi, a member of the Israeli parliament from the Joint List, spoke at a demonstration outside the parliament on Monday and called other members of the Knesset to vote against the extension of the law.  

Monday’s vote was to extend the law further for one year. However, due to the pressure exerted by Ra’am, an Arab party which is part of the ruling coalition, and left-wing party Meretz, the government agreed to reduce the extension for six months and increased the number of residency permits to such married couples, in order to win back their support.  

Following the deal, two members of Ra’am and members of the Meretz voted along with the government in favor of the extension despite earlier agreeing to vote against it calling it racist and undemocratic, Times of Israel reported.  

Meanwhile, former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud and its allies in opposition voted against the extension of the law along with the Joint List. The no vote was also supported by a rebel member of the ruling Yamina party leading to a tie which meant that the extension motion had failed and the law would expire on midnight Tuesday.

Netanyahu and Likud’s allies demanded a much “stronger” and permanent law on immigration of Arabs into Israel in order to preserve the “Jewish character” of the country, calling the current law weak. Likud had voted for the extension of the law for the last 18 years. 

Palestinians have maintained that the law is discriminatory and racist. Several also call it an example of Israel’s apartheid regime. The Israeli attempt to link the law with “national security” has also been questioned by activists who call it an attempt to maintain the demographic balance in Israel in favor of Jews. 

After the vote, Ayman Odeh, the head of the Joint List, tweeted saying that despite members of Meretz and Ra’am voting with the government, “the racist ban on family reunification was lifted.” He also called it a victory for thousands of families who had waited for almost two decades to reunite. 

According to different estimates, due to the law, around 45,000 families in Israel and the occupied territories have been affected as spouses have to struggle with a lot of permissions to live together, and are sometimes even forced to live apart. The law has also affected thousands of others who have had to delay their marriages in hope of the suspension of the law.

The matter does not end with the vote as media reports state that the government might be bring a fresh version of the law to parliament.