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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The rise of Hamas to power in the territories makes all the more necessary a law prohibiting Palestinian men aged 18 to 35 and Palestinian women aged 18 to 25 from obtaining Israeli citizenship by marrying an Israeli spouse, state's representative Yochi Gnessin told the High Court of Justice on Tuesday.
"We are entering a new era," she said in arguing against a petition submitted by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Adalah, Meretz, Moked in Defense of the Individual and several Israeli-Palestinian couples.
The law, which was passed on July 27, 2005, lifted a total freeze on all naturalization procedures for Palestinians married to Israelis, but prohibited Palestinian men under 35 years of age, and Palestinian women under the age of 25, from living in Israel or beginning the process of obtaining Israeli citizenship or residency status, with all of the benefits entailed.
A panel of nine justices, headed by Supreme Court President Aharon Barak, is hearing the petitions, the first of which were filed in 2003. Barak said Tuesday's hearing would be the final one and the court would hand down its decision at a later date.
Gnessin said the law was necessary because Palestinians who obtain an Israeli identity card, and the right to travel freely anywhere in the country, could help terrorist organizations attack Israeli targets. She said 26 Palestinians who had received Israeli citizenship had already been involved in terrorist attacks.
Barak said he was disturbed by the law, which placed a blanket prohibition on all Palestinian men up to age 35 and Palestinian women up to age 25 without examining each family reunion application on its own merits.
"Isn't there an alternative procedure which is less injurious?" he asked Gnessin. "Couldn't you expand the criteria for conducting individual examinations? If we are only talking about 3,000 [Palestinian] applications a year, maybe we don't have to implement such a law."
Justice Mishael Cheshin seemed inclined the other way. When ACRI attorney Dan Yakir said Israel did not regard the Palestinian Authority has an enemy entity and should therefore not treat all Palestinians as potential terrorists, Cheshin interrupted him, saying: "The question is whether we should let these people into the country when Israelis are being killed all the time. Even one Israeli soul is precious. Why should we endanger it? We are talking here about life, and that is a higher value than family rights. We are talking about life and death."
Until 2002, Palestinians who married Israelis were allowed to obtain Israeli citizenship or residency status in accordance with a five-year procedure. During those five years, they were allowed to live in Israel but had to renew their request to remain in Israel each year. Each time, the authorities checked to see that the marriage was not false and that the applicants had not become involved in security crimes.
Soon after Operation Defensive Shield, in May 2002, the cabinet passed a decision freezing the process and prohibiting any Palestinian who married an Israeli after that date from applying for official status and the right to live in Israel.
On August 6, 2003, the Knesset passed a provisional law for one year, giving legal status to the government's policy. The law was extended for two years, under growing criticism that it violated the human right to have a family and because it was racist, since it applied to Palestinians only.
Last year, the Knesset passed a new law that lifted the restrictions on Palestinians who were not in the "dangerous age," based on a statistical analysis of which categories of Palestinians was most likely to commit terrorist acts against Israel.