Court ruling shows easier path for young Arabs to gain Israeli citizenship

Population Authority compelled to publish rules for applicants aged 18-21

District Court of Jerusalem, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's trial will take place (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
District Court of Jerusalem, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's trial will take place
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
A previously unpublished regulatory clause, outlining relaxed requirements for young adult legal permanent residents applying to become Israeli citizens, has become public by order of the Jerusalem District Court.
Tuesday’s ruling forced Israel’s Population and Immigration Authority, which operates under the Interior Ministry, to publish the criterion – Clause 4A.
The approximately 20,000 Palestinians between the ages of 18 and 21 living in east Jerusalem now understand what is needed when petitioning for Israeli citizenship, which is not automatically granted to them as residents of the city.
Clause 4A requires five years of continuous residence in Israel; that the youth not be a citizen of any other country; and lastly, that they prove they have not committed any serious legal offense. These conditions were not previously publicly available to petitioners.
Since Israel took control of east Jerusalem in 1967, the rules to obtain citizenship for east Jerusalem Arab residents, as well as for Palestinians living in the West Bank, have been a political and judicial challenge.
Jordan occupied the territory from 1948 through 1967. The kingdom provided residents with Jordanian papers, including passports, until 1988, when it relinquished its claim to the area and severed all administrative and legal ties with the West Bank and Jerusalem.
For those born after 1988 and who therefore did not have Jordanian papers, the first test cases came in the early 2000s, when they began to reach the age of 18.
Osama, who agreed to be quoted without using his full name, was one of the first, requesting Israeli citizenship in 2012, at the age of 19.
“I did not know anything about the mysterious 4A clause and the Interior Ministry would not tell me. I was born here and lived here all my life,” he told The Media Line. “They never said anything to me about the clause. They just kept pushing me off.”
Now 30 years old, his case is still pending before the court because it was petitioned under Clause 4A.
“All countries have standard citizenship requests like marrying a citizen or moving into a country. The US has its green card for temporary residents [actually, green card holders have permanent residency in the United States – J.S.]. The laws are clear. In Israel we have the Law of Return enabling any Jewish person to become a citizen. But Israel refuses to make it easy for east Jerusalem residents,” noted Osama, whose experience now includes work in Israeli courts as a translator from Arabic to Hebrew.
“It is my right, not a favor they may or may not grant me, to obtain Israeli citizenship,” he told The Media Line.
Adi Lustigman, a human rights lawyer, and colleague Hadar Shechter brought the case forcing the Population Authority to publish its guidelines.
Lustigman told The Media Line that the Authority told the appellant family in the case there would be a two-year wait for interviews, meaning their son would be older than 21 when they take place.
“We went to court in 2019. They [the Authority] never published the actual rules for youth petitioners, whereas they did for adults. There were lots of elements that tripped us up, but until now we were never told what there were,” she said.
“Even the ministry bureaucrats were not sure of the rules and procedures,” Lustigman added.
The case continues, she said. “Next Monday we will be back in court regarding other procedural questions.”
Jerusalem attorney Mohammad Dahleh, who has practiced civil and human rights law for more than 30 years, told The Media Line that without Israeli citizenship, east Jerusalem residents cannot obtain Israeli passports, vote in national elections, or work in state government jobs, among other things. They do pay taxes to Israel and receive social benefits such as National Insurance and unemployment payments and health care coverage.
“There are roughly 350,000 Palestinians living in Jerusalem,” Dahleh said. “Though more and more of them are requesting Israeli citizenship, this is not a huge movement. It is a very low number, maybe in the low thousands, and even lower among youth. Israel is happy with this because they prefer Palestinians to be permanent residents rather than citizens.”
Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Arieh King sees things differently.
“For many years, I have been arguing that one of the major reasons for them [Arabs living in Jerusalem] not getting citizenship is political, coming from left-wing organizations. For more than 50 years, not giving Jerusalem Arabs citizenship was the basis and justification for the Left’s agenda, so that in the future they can say that we need to divide Jerusalem,” he told The Media Line.
King, a leader in the right-wing United Jerusalem list, wants Arab Jerusalemites to feel freer to leave the city without endangering their residency status. “By giving them citizenship, we will see a great migration of them leaving the city rather than being ‘Zionist prisoners’ forced to stay in Jerusalem without rights. We will see them move anywhere in Israel, to the West Bank and overseas.
“I bless the idea of giving them citizenship; it gives a strong and clear message to the leftist bureaucrats stopping this [from happening].”
The Population and Immigration Authority, responding to The Media Line, stated: “During the course of the past week the regulation governing the subject was published on the Population Authority website.”
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