Knesset panel blasts new anti-family reunification bill

Overwhelming number of committee members at Monday's meeting demanded that the bill be scrapped.

gal-on 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
gal-on 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Had Monday's Knesset Interior Committee meeting reflected the actual strength of supporters and opponents of legislation to extend restrictions on family reunification requests by Palestinians married to Israelis, the bill would not stand a chance. But since this is not the case, Yahad-Meretz MK Zahava Gal-On and representatives of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel declared at the meeting that they would petition the High Court of Justice to nullify the law should the Knesset plenum decide to approve it. The current government provisional law restricting family reunification is due to expire on January 16 and the government has prepared a new bill to replace it for the next two years. The plenum approved the new bill in a first reading and handed it over to the Knesset Interior Committee to prepare it for second and third readings. An overwhelming number of committee members who attended Monday's meeting demanded that the bill be scrapped. According to the current law, Palestinian women under the age of 25 and Palestinian men under the age of 35 who are married to Israelis may not live in Israel under any circumstances. Those who meet the age criteria may be given the right to live in Israel, but without social benefits or the right to work. Even those who are eligible to live here will be refused permission if they are considered security threats or if members of their immediate family are suspected of acting against Israel. This legislation was severely criticized by human rights organizations in Israel and abroad as violating international law, discriminating against the Israeli Arab population, denying Israeli Arabs the right to family life and applying collective punishment. Last May, the High Court ruled by six votes to five that the law was constitutional. However, Justice Edmond Levy, who voted with the majority, said he would not support another temporary extension of the law. The government maintains that the law must be extended again because Israel's security situation continues to be precarious. Deputy State Attorney Malchiel Blass said the new bill made several changes - some easing the restrictions and others making them tougher. On the one hand, the new bill calls for the establishment of a humanitarian committee to advise the interior minister on granting temporary-residential status to Palestinians who have spouses and/or children living in Israel. Temporary residency allows a Palestinian to work and be eligible for social benefits. The law does not oblige the interior minister to accept the committee's recommendations. It also empowers the minister to issue an order limiting the number of humanitarian requests that may be approved in a single year. On the other hand, the bill adds security constraints. Thus, for example, if any of the applicant's relatives - in addition to brothers, sisters or parents - are suspected of terrorist activity against Israel, the application will likely be turned down. Furthermore, the bill's restrictions will apply not only to Palestinians who marry Israelis, but also to citizens of Iran, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. The law makes an exception of Israeli Druse who marry Syrian Druse, since these matches are common and many Israeli Druse in the Golan Heights also hold Syrian citizenship. The committee is due to prepare the bill for second and third readings before next Tuesday. However, the head of the committee, Labor MK Ghaleb Majadle, said he was considering bringing experts to address the committee and also wanted the hear statistics regarding the number of Palestinians living in Israel who were involved in terrorist activity. For example, Majadle demanded that the age restriction for Palestinian women be lowered to 20 and insisted that there were no Palestinian women married to Israelis in the 20-25 age bracket who were involved in terrorism. Justice Ministry attorney Yochi Gnessin argued that between 2002 and 2005, the number of Palestinian women living in Israel and in their early 20s who were involved in terrorist activity had noticeably increased.