Israel’s ban on Palestinian spouses becomes permanent law – a triumph for ‘Jewish state’

Palestinians hold ids and banners to demand family reunification between Palestinian families split between Israel and Gaza (Omar Ashtawy - APA Images)

Jonathan Ofir

Mondoweiss  /  March11, 2022

Yesterday, Israel’s parliament passed a law denying naturalization to Palestinians from the occupied West Bank or Gaza married to Israeli citizens, forcing thousands of Palestinian families to either emigrate or live apart, as Reuters reported.

The permanent law barring nationalization passed by 45-15, a three-quarters voting majority, which cut across coalition lines (only half the full parliament voted on the legislation). Two parties that are in the governing coalition voted against the law: the left-Zionist Meretz party and the rightwing Islamist party Ra’am. The rest of the governing coalition, including Labor, voted for the racist law, joining forces with the most far-right politicians in Israel’s parliament.

Lawmaker Simcha Rothman from the rightwing Religious Zionism party, who helped get the Kahanist party Jewish Power into the parliament (with Itamar Ben Gvir, the admirer of Jewish terrorist Baruch Goldstein, as a member of the Knesset), was a main pioneer of this one. Rothman was exultant already ahead of yesterday’s vote, when it was clear it would be passed:

The State of Israel is Jewish and so it will remain… Today, God willing, Israel’s defensive shield will be significantly strengthened,

The other main pioneer of this legislation is a leading member of the government, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, from Naftali Bennett’s Yamina (Rightwards) party. She was very clear about her success, as she told the plenum yesterday:

Simcha Rothman immediately understood the damage done by the law’s expiring and worked with me to draft a version acceptable to both sides. Demonstrating great responsibility, the opposition helped pass the law.

A temporary law barring nationalization of Palestinian spouses had expired last July, but since then Shaked instructed the administration to continue acting as if it was in force. Then in January, she was ordered by the High Court to cease the ban, following a petition by civil rights groups:

“The basic rules of administrative law do not allow the enforcement of a law that is no longer on the books”,  wrote Justice Dafna Barak-Erez. However, it was only a question of short time before this legal “problem” could be solved once again. As an official close to Shaked, cited by The Times of Israel said:

“The minister intends in the coming weeks to re-enact the law. Hopefully the opposition that toppled the law before will not act against the state.”

So that’s what happened yesterday. And what do the government’s centrists think– lawmakers who are heroes to liberal Zionists in the U.S.? Lawmaker Ram Ben Barak, from Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party, who heads the Foreign Affairs and Defense committee, signed off on the law with a “heavy heart”:

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.

This law is hardly new. What is new is that it is cemented in permanent law. It has a history as a temporary, emergency order, which had to be renewed each year.

And it is an apartheid law. Human Rights Watch, in their 213-page report on Israeli Apartheid and Persecution of last year, dedicated a section to this issue:

‘The 1952 Citizenship Law also authorizes granting citizenship based on naturalization. However, in 2003, the Knesset passed the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law (Temporary Order), which bars granting Israeli citizenship or long-term legal status to Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza who marry Israeli citizens or residents. With few exceptions, this law, renewed every year since and upheld by the Israeli Supreme Court, denies both Jewish and Palestinian citizens and residents of Israel who choose to marry Palestinians the right to live with their partner in Israel. This restriction, based solely on the spouse’s identity as a Palestinian from the West Bank or Gaza, notably does not apply when Israelis marry non-Jewish spouses of most other foreign nationalities. They can receive immediate status and, after several years, apply for citizenship.

Commenting on a 2005 renewal of the law, the prime minister at the time, Ariel Sharon, said: “There’s no need to hide behind security arguments. There’s a need for the existence of a Jewish state.” Benjamin Netanyahu, who was then the finance minister, said during discussions at the time: “Instead of making it easier for Palestinians who want to get citizenship, we should make the process much more difficult, in order to guarantee Israel’s security and a Jewish majority in Israel.” In March 2019, this time as prime minister, Netanyahu declared, “Israel is not a state of all its citizens,” but rather “the nation-state of the Jewish people and only them.”’

The law is akin to Trump’s notorious “Muslim ban” which he signed as an executive order when he became president in 2017 – that, too, was on the supposed pretext of preventing terror.

And what about the “security reality” that made Ben Barak vote for the law with such a heavy heart?

The Times of Israel report that Israel security service, the Shin Bet, delivered a report to the parliament on Monday, stating that 130.000 Palestinians were given citizenship or residency through family unification between 1993 and 2003, and that between 2001 and 2021, 48 of these were involved in “terror activities”.

The Times of Israel do not analyze or question these figures, but I think that there is good reason to scrutinize them. 48 out of 130,000 is one out of 2,708, or 0.03%. Now consider what Israel labels as “terrorism”. Last year, we learned that these could be members of outstanding human rights organizations, such as Al-Haq, or who knows, perhaps their secret supporters or sympathizers (like me).

It can be people who shared some vague social media text which “fits the profile” of a possible “terrorist supporter”, or someone sharing a poem about resistance, like Dareen Tatour, or Palestinian lawmaker Khalida Jarrar, repeatedly imprisoned without charge (Administrative Detention).

Hey, I am not even talking about people throwing Molotov cocktails, something which the “west” seems to have great understanding for nowadays when it comes to Ukrainian resistance to Russian occupation. So the point is, that Israel’s definition of “terror activities” is a very, very wide definition. The Shin Bet anyway vets anyone coming in or moving through Israel and between territories it occupies etc. There is no need to enact collective punishment also at the level of family unification, just to make it harder for Palestinians and easier for the Shin Bet, at the cost of such a basic human right as the right to family life.

And so the centrist Ram Ben Barak says he simply has no choice but to “defend himself” against these terrorists. He’s sitting in a chamber with Itamar Ben Gvir, who adores the perpetrator of the Hebron massacre, Baruch Goldstein, who murdered 29 Muslim worshippers at the Al-Ibrahimi Mosque in 1994 – and he has to defend himself against terrorists by this law. If Palestinian-Israeli lawmaker Ahmad Tibi, or Ayman Odeh, had posters of Palestinians who perpetrated such massacres of Jews (like Ben Gvir had a poster of Goldstein), we would not hear the end of it.

The reverse picture is quite impossible to imagine. Can we imagine someone even suggesting to bar Jews from family unification because many of them appear to enact terror against Palestinians? Maybe limit family unification of West Bank settlers, since they seem to figure more prominently in what can only be described as Jewish terrorism, which has been increasing in the past few years? And was Ayelet Shaked, Interior Minister and pioneer of this law banning Palestinian spouses, ever imprisoned for her post in 2014 which advocated outright genocide of Palestinians, including women and children? Did it ever even disqualify her from being a lawmaker, Justice Minister (2015-19) no less?

Following the passing of the law, Shaked boasted in a tweet:

A Jewish democratic state – 1

A state of all its citizens – 0

And that last tweet is really the whole story in a nutshell. What Shaked calls a “Jewish democratic state” is not democratic, it’s a state of Jewish supremacy from the river to the sea, just like the Israeli B’Tselem called it in its Apartheid report last year.

What Shaked calls “a state of all its citizens” is really what we would normally call a democratic state, where basic rights like family unification are ensured. Whoever is fooled by Israel’s security and “terror” arguments, should read Shaked’s last tweet text again. If you want to summarize it even further, it really just says “A democratic state – 0”.

Jonathan Ofir – Israeli musician, conductor and blogger/writer based in Denmark

 H/t Ofer Neiman