Yesterday, the State of Israel became the first western state whose High Court ruled that some citizens have fewer fundamental rights than other citizens based on their ethnicity. Actually, it had done so before, but yesterday it rejected the most sustained challenge to the “Citizenship Law,” which bars the non-Israeli spouses of Israeli Palestinians from becoming citizens. So while an Israeli Jew from Brooklyn has the right of marrying anybody she likes, and having her spouse naturalized, a native Palestinian Israeli citizen cannot marry a distant relative who lives in a town five minutes from her house – unless that relative was a Palestinian collaborator, working for the Israelis, and then, only by special approval of the Minister of Interior.
The Israeli government has repeatedly demanded that Palestinians recognise Israel as a “Jewish state”. Recent developments in the Knesset and High Court are exposing exactly what this means, and in doing so, throw the spotlight on the issue that the ‘peace process’ – and Western governments – refuse to tackle.
On Wednesday, Israel’s High Court rejected a legal challenge to the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law, by a six to five vote. The law, first passed as a ‘temporary’ measure in 2003 and renewed ever since, prevents Palestinians from the Occupied Territories (and those from ‘enemy states’) from living with their spouses in Israel.
For thousands of Palestinian families, Israel’s law means a choice between moving abroad, living apart, or living in Israel illegally. No wonder that the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) condemned what it described as a “racist law” for the way it harms “the very texture of the lives of families whose only sin is the Palestinian blood that runs in their veins”.
Legal rights centre Adalah, who have been deeply involved with challenges to the law, said that the High Court had “approved a law the likes of which do not exist in any democratic state in the world, depriving citizens from maintaining a family life in Israel only on the basis of the ethnicity or national belonging of their spouse”.