MIFTAH
Thursday, 8 December. 2022
 
Your Key to Palestine
The Palestinian Initiatives for The Promotoion of Global Dialogue and Democracy
 
 
 

Dr. Munir Nusseibeh:

  • The law is racist and has political objectives to counter Palestinian demographics
  • The law fragments Palestinian families and undermines protection for women and children

Ms. Randa Siniora:

  • The new law renders women victims of compound violence from the occupation and from their husbands in the case of divorce
  • In 2021, we provided legal and social consultations and interventions to 252 Palestinian women

Introduction:

The Israeli Knesset recently passed the so-called “Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law”, which observers say is racist and has political and demographic objectives to combat Palestinian presence in Jerusalem, inside the ’48 territories and in all Palestinian areas. They also said the law falls under Israel’s policy of ethnic cleansing exercised by occupation authorities.

The new amendments to this law prevent the “reunification” of Palestinian families from living under the same roof. They also impose restrictions on marriage to Palestinians from inside the Green Line or who are citizens of a number of Arab countries in addition to Iran, all of which are classified as “hostile”. The law even includes Palestinians living in foreign countries.

A racist law

Dr. Munir Nusseibeh, Director General of the Jerusalem Community Action Center, an affiliate of Al Quds University, described the law as “racist par excellence”, aimed at shrinking the number of Palestinians in Jerusalem. “Israel uses security pretexts in regards to this law, but they have not been able to prove any of them in court. Since its ratification after the eruption of the Aqsa Intifada in 2000, Israel halted its review of family reunification applications. After that, the Knesset passed the so-called “temporary law” that prevents any Palestinian with a West Bank or Gaza Strip ID to obtain temporary or permanent residency in Israel or Israeli citizenship. The law was followed by additional amendments, including preventing any person from “hostile states” such as Iran, Iraq, Syria or Lebanon, who is married to a Jerusalemite or an Israeli citizen from even applying for permanent or temporary residency, which is renewable each year or two. Hence, “mixed” Palestinian families were thrown in the midst of an endless and complicated bureaucracy. They were made to continuously prove that their so-called “center of life” is in Jerusalem or inside the Green Line. Meanwhile, couples from the Gaza Strip were completely prevented from applying for even a permit to live in Jerusalem or inside the Green Line, leaving them only with the option of being separated from each other or living abroad.”

Exceptions

In regards to exceptions in the new law for some family reunification applicants, Nusseibeh says: “There are thousands of reunification applications at the Israeli interior ministry. This law doesn’t allow Jerusalemites and others to feel secure and have the normal, natural right to maintain their family unit under one roof. Recently, after a one-year hiatus in the renewal of the temporary law, the Knesset made some amendments to it, most significantly that any person from the West Bank and Gaza Strip over 50 who has had a family reunification permit for 10 years, is eligible for temporary residency. It should be noted that temporary residency is tricky because it can be easily revoked. As for Palestinian residents of Jerusalem or inside the Green Line, residency is basically only so they can benefit from Israel’s national insurance. They also automatically get health insurance and can drive a car without a special permit. These are really the only benefits of the latest amendment.

Still, some things became worse after this law was passed. Its prior version was created by a humanitarian committee that sometimes granted special residency permits in certain cases. However, the newly amended law minimized the ability of this humanitarian committee to grant permits. Today, no more than 52 people are being granted these special permits per year.

“This is ridiculous,” Nusseibeh says. “How could the law possibly predict the number of humanitarian cases in the future? This will make it much harder for Palestinian families in the future, especially for women married to Jerusalemites. In many of these cases, particularly when there is a divorce, women cannot maintain their ties to their children except if they live with their spouse in the same house, because if their children move with them to the West Bank or Gaza, they lose their residency rights. That means the only solution for a secure and stable life is for the mother and children to remain in Jerusalem. It is clear that women, in particular, are the biggest victims of this law.”

Mechanisms of protection for women and children

Dr. Nusseibeh touched on possible means of protection for women and children in this law, maintaining that it mostly effects women and children by separating Palestinian families. Protection for these women in Jerusalem, for example, is also undermined, he maintains, because their husbands must renew their family reunification application every year so they can continue living with their spouses and children. If they divorce, however, or the women become victims of domestic violence and the husband decides not to reapply for family reunification, they find themselves in an even more precarious situation. This is because their presence in Jerusalem is contingent upon the tedious and time-consuming reapplication of their permit. While the same applies to the non-Jerusalemite male spouse, women are more socially fragile and more in need of this permit, he says.

Meanwhile, Nusseibeh says his center is working with several families that have not been able to register their children in the Israeli population registry. Nusseibeh maintains their numbers are in the thousands; children not considered as residents of the West Bank or Jerusalem and do not have any official documents. This makes them ineligible, in the eyes of Israeli authorities, for any health, social or educational services. Some grow up without ever being able to secure an ID card, “which is rare anywhere else in the world,” he says. They cannot travel or open a bank account and constantly suffer from the fact that they have no legal status.

The Citizenship Law and the Nation-State Law

Dr. Nusseibeh believes this new citizenship law is an extension of the concept of Israel as a Jewish state. He says it this is a “constitutional law that determines constitutional concepts regarding Israel as a Jewish state, which is racist in nature and unacceptable under international law and principles.” Nusseibeh maintains that the last version of the law considered demography as one element in its creation, even though they avoided explicitly mentioning it and used security pretenses instead. However, with the latest draft of this law, they were unabashed in their racism and made this clear in the text and tone of the law, aimed at reducing the number of Palestinians who receive residency status or Israeli citizenship. “The fact remains,” he maintained, “that all Palestinians, whether in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jerusalem, or the ’48 territories, live under Israeli occupation, which means no Palestinian should have to ask for a permit to live with their spouse; this is all occupied territory.”

Moving the battle to the international arena

On this topic, Dr. Nusseibeh states: “There is no way around dealing with Israeli law in this regard. We cannot avoid it since people must deal with everyday matters such as issuing ID cards and a drivers’ license and just secure living under one roof. That is why we must deal with Israeli courts in spite of their futility in many instances. At the same time, the Palestinian rights’ community is backed by its international and Israeli counterparts, which are active in international arenas in trying to prompt Israel into halting its violations. Still, working in international advocacy does not immediately pay off; it needs patience, especially since a major part of the international community is bias towards Israel. Just recently, we saw how the international community, especially rich countries, are firmly standing with Ukraine even though they are aware of the ongoing injustice against the Palestinians since 1948. The international community still has a long way to go; it is clear that this community, in its current structure, will not just hand us our rights without a struggle. But this does not make our battle in international arenas any less important.”

WCLAC Director General

Women’s and rights activist and director of the Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling, Randa Siniora, showcased the most prominent repercussions of this law on thousands of Palestinian families. She also broached mechanisms for the protection of women and children and available legal options for holding the Israeli occupation accountable for its racist policies that exacerbate the suffering of Palestinian women and render them victims of complex violence, whether by the occupation or their husbands in the case of divorce or separation.

Mechanisms of protection for women and children

In regards to mechanisms of protection provided by the new law could for women and children, Siniora said there were none. However, she did say Jerusalemite rights and women’s institutions provide free legal, and social services to women and families in need of reunification. She explained that some of these institutions in Jerusalem are part of a coalition, which is headed by the Jerusalem Center for Legal Aid, in cooperation with St. Yves, WCLAC and the Land Studies Center. These, she explains, collaborate to provide individual legal services to counter the repercussions in the law, which has been in place since 2003 and renewed every year. Unfortunately, Siniora states, they expect the law to be renewed each year from now on.

Lobbying and advocacy

Siniora adds that these institutions also conduct lobbying and advocacy efforts by presenting on international platforms, including the UN. The most recent of these events was their input in the closing statement of the Human Rights Committee of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, based on interventions regarding Israel’s report, submitted by WCLAC and the Jerusalem Center for Legal Aid and Human Rights. “Ours revolved around the impacts of Israel’s policies, especially regarding family reunification,” Siniora says. “The committee adopted our legal comments in Paragraph 44 on the topic of family reunification. The committee also confirmed the recommendations of the Center. Hence, we want to take advantage of our presence at the Human Rights Council, the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), with all contracting parties and platforms, and the fact-finding mission formed in May, 2021 after the Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip, on Israeli violations in the occupied Palestinian territories and inside Israel. From these platforms, we try to lobby and give evidence that the occupation’s policies are systematic, racist and discriminatory and we call for the elimination of all forms of discrimination against the Palestinians, including repercussions of the family reunification [citizenship] law on Palestinian families.

Case studies:

Siniora explains, “Most of our cases are victims of complex violence or violations against women, especially in the West Bank or those married to Jerusalemites. Many of these cases are of women who suffer from violence and continue to remain in its cycle. In turn, this means they are forced to stay silent in fear of losing their residency rights in Jerusalem because the application can only be renewed by the husband at the Israeli interior ministry. We have found a strong correlation between the violence of the occupation and the new family reunification law and the suffering of women in Jerusalem, which increases when they are in dispute with their Jerusalemite husbands. It becomes increasingly difficult for these women to maintain their rights if their husbands decided not to reapply for residency.

Facts and figures:

In regards to the number of cases the center handles, Siniora says: In 2021, WCLAC’s Jerusalem branch received 252 women for legal and social consultations and interventions. She said 70% of the women who came to the center were in cases to contest laws (176 women), 50% (126) of whom were by West Bankers married to Jerusalemites or from inside the Green Line. Another 20% (50 women) were Jerusalem residents married to a West Bank husband.

Systematic apartheid

Siniora maintains that the discriminatory nature of the new law gives opportunity to build on the Amnesty International report, which considers Israel a racist, apartheid state. “At the recent Human Rights Council session on combatting Israeli apartheid, we held sideline discussions where the special human rights rapporteur for the occupied Palestinian territories, Mr. Michael Lynk presented his report on the system of apartheid, which included the topic of family reunification. We also presented our oral statement on the topic to the HRC. The recommendations that day reaffirmed that Israel’s policies are indeed systematic apartheid. We are now seeking to make 2022 the year for combatting Israeli apartheid and reaffirming the absolute necessity to end the Israeli occupation and its policy of racial discrimination.

Note: The content of this interview does not reflect the official opinion of MIFTAH. Responsibility of the information and views expressed in the interview lies entirely with the interviewee.

 
 
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