BEERSHEBA/JAFFA, 3 August 2008 (IRIN) - Some 15,000 Palestinians who married
Israeli citizens in the past decade are illegal or temporary residents. Their
lives and those of their families have become "unstable," according to
Palestinian women who marry Israelis cannot obtain citizenship
"Many families are being forced to live
underground," said Orna Cohen, an attorney from Adalah, an Israeli rights group
fighting the ban on "family unifications" (mixed marriages involving
Palestinians or some other Arabs) in Israel.
While most foreign nationals who marry Israelis can live in the Jewish State and
eventually obtain citizenship, Palestinians and some other Arabs are unable to
What started out in 2002 as a temporary order - enacted at the height of
regional violence - preventing Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip
from marrying Israeli citizens and residents and moving to Israel, has now
become law, which seems more permanent than provisional.
People who were already naturalised in Israel before the law took effect are not
While heavily condemned by UN forums, including the Committee on Elimination of
Racial Discrimination, and numerous international and local rights groups,
Israel said the law was needed for security reasons, although demographic issues
have also been raised. Some nationalists in Israel expressed concern that the
"family unifications" were swelling the size of the country's Arab minority.
"If they want, let them go and live over there," said an Israeli official in
comments to IRIN. "Over there" meant occupied Palestinian territory.
Following the criticism and legal battles, the state added a clause granting a
visitor's permit to Palestinian men over 35 and women over 25 who marry
Israelis, provided they had no security issues.
Rights groups protested against the age limits imposed, saying people tend to be
married before they reached those years.
Adding to the trouble, a new amendment to the law
says residents of the Gaza Strip, Syria, Lebanon, Iran and Iraq can never live
in Israel, regardless of their age, unless they are Jewish. In practice this
means such couples would have to find refuge in a third country.
"If the Israeli spouse
divorces the other, or dies, the Palestinian loses all rights to stay in
Israel. The person then gets sent back, uprooted."
Oded Feller, from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, said that even if
a visitor's permit is granted, it still does not grant them social rights, like
health care, and the person cannot expect citizenship or residency.
"Also, if the Israeli spouse divorces the other, or dies, the Palestinian loses
all rights to stay in Israel," Feller added, opposing the law in its entirety.
"The person then gets sent back, uprooted."
Safa Younes from Arus al-Bakhar, a women's rights organisation in Jaffa, said
the lack of health insurance hits women particularly hard.
"They do not receive checkups or any of the common screenings during their
pregnancy," Younes said, adding that most of the women affected by the law are
of child-bearing age in need of more medical care than men.
Private health care remained expensive and out of reach. The Israeli Physicians
for Human Rights offered some basic health care for free to those in need, and
has petitioned the Health Ministry to offer them medical insurance.
For those living in Israel without papers, or with only temporary visiting
permits, life can be hard.
"My wife cannot work, she cannot drive a car," said Morad a-Sanaa, who married
Abeer, from Bethlehem, several years ago. She lives on a temporary permit which
gives her only the right to reside and not much else.
Abeer worked as a lecturer at a Palestinian university and is a trained social
worker. But, to stay with her husband and two children inside Israel, she had to
give that up.
"Life goes into the freezer, your good years pass, and you can't do anything
with them," lamented Morad.
"There is no way for us to all live
together like a normal family. So I live in Bethlehem, while my wife and
two children live in Jerusalem."
In some instances, families become divided.
Ali Sarasreh, from Bethlehem, said his request for "family unification" with his
wife, a resident of East Jerusalem, was denied by the Israeli authorities.
"There is no way for us to all live together like a normal family," Sarasreh
told the Israeli rights group B'tselem. "So I live in Bethlehem, while my wife
and two children live in Jerusalem."
For East Jerusalemites, whose residency is not as permanent as that of Arab
citizens of Israel, moving to the West Bank to live with a spouse can lead to
the revocation of their ID cards - an end to their health care, freedom of
movement and ability to live in the Holy City.
Israeli officials have said the law does not prevent people from marrying, just
from living inside Israel, though a spokeswoman from the Interior Ministry
admitted that East Jerusalemites would lose their residency if they moved out of
The above article comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2008
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