In a small coffee shop on busy Salah a-Din Street, the television is always tuned to the Al Jazeera channel. Ever since satellite dishes became prevalent and affordable, a TV set has been a must in such coffee shops. While trendier cafes tune in to popular Arab music channels, Al Jazeera is a natural choice for traditional coffee shops, usually visited by men only. The channel can be turned on only during Ramadan, when popular TV series draw customers who prefer to watch the daily dose of drama or comedy at coffee shops rather than at home.

While an endless flow of images flashes on the screen, rings of blue smoke rise to the sooty ceiling: The news from Lebanon, Iraq or Egypt doesn’t seem to be of particular interest to anyone. “It’s not that we don’t care about what’s going on there, in brotherly Arab countries, but we have more than enough troubles of our own,” explains Hussam Masry, an elderly man with a thick mustache and smiling blue eyes.

Indeed, rarely a day goes by without some kind of news related to Palestinians, east Jerusalemites, Arab- Israelis or their relations with the State of Israel. The new Loyalty Oath Law that obliges non-Jews who want to obtain Israeli citizenship to swear allegiance to a Jewish state was closely followed by coffee shop regulars, many of whom live in nearby Sheikh Jarrah or in the Old City.

The Palestinian newspapers Al-Quds, Al-Hayat al- Jadida and Al-Ayam, which are sold in nearby groceries and bookshop, interpreted the law as “racist” and “undermining the natural rights of Palestinians in Jerusalem,” but the coffee shop elders aren’t agitated.

“This law is not right. I’m really against it because as far as I know, Jews, Muslims and Christians live in this state, and I don’t see how can it become a ‘Jewish state.’ And what does that mean exactly? But the irony is that this law has nothing to do with us here in east Jerusalem,” Hossam says.

Hossam lives in Wadi Joz, a neighborhood popular with Israelis looking for cheap car repair shops and spare parts. He was born in Jerusalem, while it was under the Jordanian rule and in 1967, after the Six Day War, along with fellows residents of East Jerusalem, received the status of "permanent resident,"  in accordance with the Entry into Israel Law, 5712 – 1952.  A "permanent resident" receives a blue ID card, National Insurance benefits and state-funded medical care, other social rights and the right to vote in municipal elections. Since only future citizens and not residents will be obliged to take the oath of allegiance, the “loyalty oath” will affect only future spouses of Israeli Arabs, not east Jerusalemites.

HOWEVER, HOSSAM and his friend Basem, who wants to marry off his younger son, are still quite worried. The reason: another proposition aimed to prohibit family unification among Israeli citizens, residents and Palestinians.

“We learned from the Al Jazeera report that this winter the Knesset will discuss the new law that will prohibit such unification, which means that if my son marries his relative from Ramallah or Azariya, the couple will have to live there, although his work is in Jerusalem, our house is in Jerusalem, and our whole life is in Jerusalem,” says Basem.

Basem is referring to government efforts to make a temporary law regarding Palestinian family unification a permanent one. This "temporary law" is the Nationality and Entry into Israel Law (Temporary Order) which was enacted in 2003. The Temporary Order  prohibits Israeli citizens or permanent residents married to Palestinians, or who marry them to have their spouses legally live with them in Israel . "This law has made life unbearable for hundreds of families in East Jerusalem" explains Leora Bechor, Staff Attorney at HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual. "Before May 2002, the Ministry of Interior applied its policies with no distinction based on a foreign spouse's place of origin.  Spouses from the United States or from the West Bank were treated equally for purposes of family unification.  If the family met all the necessary criteria (by complying with excessive and onerous paperwork requirements on a yearly basis), after five years and three months, the foreign spouse would receive permanent residence.  But with the implementation of the Nationality and Entry into Israel Law (Temporary Order), the regular path for family unification became closed to Palestinians. Instead, under the current version of the law, there is no possibility of completing the family unification process; i.e., there is no possibility of receiving permanent residence.

Bechor stresses that not only is a whole population of adults affected by this draconian law, but children of Israeli residents are as well.  The fact that the law provides legal status only to children under the age of 14 is testimony to the law's cruelty.  Children over the age of 14 receive nothing more than military permits.  HaMoked has argued the law, especially as applied to children, is unconstitutional, and that all minor children of Israeli residents must be entitled to permanent residence.

Basem, who also lives in Wadi Joz, says the situation was the same even before the freeze in 2002. “When my brother got married in 1996, he waited for years until his wife, who was born in Bethlehem, got permission.

Luckily, they received all their papers before 2002. And now they want to make it final. Where is the justice? If a Jewish person wants to bring his non- Jewish wife from Russia or Japan, he is allowed to do it, so why can’t we?” he asks.

In 2002 and 2003, the lawmakers explained this measure as “security risks.”

“Since the beginning of armed conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, which led to dozens of suicide bombings in Israel, there has been an increase in involvement of Palestinians who received Israeli IDs as a result of family unification procedures with Israeli citizens and residents. This way, they exploit their status in Israel that allows them freedom of movement between Israel and the PA,” the law says.

Former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) director MK Avi Dichter says that any country with a clear immigration policy would introduce similar restrictions. "Since there is no defined law on immigration in Israel, the Temporary Order law was enacted. At that time we witnessed dozens of suicide bombings, and in many cases Palestinians who were earlier granted citizenship or residency within the family unification arrangement assisted the terrorists. They provided refuge and supplied them with cars and assistance. Israeli Arabs, citizens and residents marry Palestinians from West Bank for many reasons: sometimes the future spouse gives up the mohr [the obligatory present of gold that in the case of divorce remains with the wife]. Also, this is the only place in the Arab world where the groom leaves his house and comes to live with his bride’s family if she is a Jerusalemite, only so he could get the rights. This situation must come to an end,” he says.

According to Bechor, the state has continuously failed to prove that approving family unification applications between Israelis and Palestinians jeopardizes Israel's security.  Together with other human rights organizations, HaMoked calls for an evaluation of each case individually and objects to the Law's blanket prohibition on family unification.

In response to the Government's intentions to convert the Temporary Law into a permanent one, Bechor does not see how the new law will be able to pass constitutional muster. She added that the present version of the Law is currently under constitutional review by the High Court of Justice, following petitions filed by HaMoked and other human rights organizations and activists.

THE MOST recent case is that of Jerusalem-born Firas al-Maraghi, who married a German citizen and shortly thereafter moved with his wife to Berlin while she completed her doctoral thesis. While in Berlin, Maraghi was informed that his newborn daughter would not be registered as an Israeli resident and would not receive the identification papers needed to live in her parents’ house after they moved back to Jerusalem.

Another Palestinian father, Safi Abdul Hamid, who is married to a resident of east Jerusalem, didn’t see his newborn child for a month, as she was born in Jerusalem and the father hadn’t received a permit to enter Israel.

According to Article 23 of the The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1966, the family is the “natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the state.” Article 10 of the covenant forbids the interference with the “privacy, family or home of a person.”

Although any given country can impose laws in a state of emergency, Israel has imposed a “sweeping infringement of these rights” and does not meet the conditions applied for a state of emergency, especially since it discriminates heavily among its citizens,” says a policy paper published by MIFTAH (the Palestinian initiative for the promotion of global dialogue and democracy, headed by Dr. Hanan Ashrawi).

As it turns out, while the legislators are preparing to cast their votes on the new legislation that will finalize the ban on family unification, some say they will carry on as usual. A young man from Silwan who requested anonymity told In Jerusalem that many of his friends and relatives still marry Palestinian men and women “because there are not enough eligible singles in Jerusalem, and anyway nobody can tell us whom to marry. We were always interconnected with the whole region here – Ramallah, Bethlehem, Hebron and the rest of the West Bank. It’s not easy, but it is possible. You just live normally until you are caught, and then this person will be returned to the PA. And then he or she will use an alternative path to go back, avoiding the checkpoints. Yes, it’s life on a volcano. But that’s our life.”
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