Egyptians in Israel battle for rights

Egyptians married to Israelis slam decision to strip them of citizenship.

egyptian israelis 248 88 (photo credit: Brenda Gazzar)
egyptian israelis 248 88
(photo credit: Brenda Gazzar)
Shukri Shazly, who has lived in Israel for the last 15 years, says he won't be stripped of his Egyptian citizenship without a fight. Shazly, who is married to an Israeli Arab and has four daughters here, was "embarrassed" but not surprised by the Cairo Administrative Court decision last week that called for the implementation of an old law that would strip citizenship from Egyptians married to Israelis, as well as from their children. "This judge didn't study the issue correctly. And that is the reason for my embarrassment and regret. This is all ignorance and backwardness… Egypt is like that," he told The Jerusalem Post Thursday from the home of an Egyptian friend. "The superficiality is clear from the decision... They always forget human rights. They always forget about freedom… They always do everything according to their mood and their feelings. But laws should be the determining factor, not our moods, nor our opinions." Only the eldest of Shazly's four daughters has Egyptian citizenship, while the others are Israeli citizens. While he prefers that his daughters only have Israeli citizenship, he believes no one has the right to strip him or anyone else of their Egyptian citizenship. "I don't care about the certificate [passport] but we are Egyptian," he said. "Being Egyptian is something inside of us." Shazly, who is the president of the Association of Egyptians in Israel, estimates that he is one of between 6,000 to 7,000 Egyptian citizens married to Israeli women and living in the country legally. He believes that another 4,000 to 5,000 Egyptians, either married or single, are living in the country illegally. While it is not yet clear whether the court decision will even be implemented or how, the ruling has sent shock waves throughout the tight-knit Egyptian community here, comprised of both Muslims and Christians. "We don't have any other citizenship. We only have one," said Ragi George Faragala, an Egyptian who lives in Nazareth with his Arab-Israeli wife. "There is no Egyptian law that allows you to take away one's citizenship. If they want to take away our citizenship, then they should close the Israeli Embassy in Cairo. We are in a situation of peace and we haven't done anything wrong." Shazly said they were trying to organize a demonstration Wednesday in front of the Egyptian embassy in Tel Aviv. The demonstration, he said, would serve as a warning to their government that they would not take such a move lying down. If it appears that the ruling might be implemented, they say they plan on filing an international lawsuit against Egypt's top brass, including "the president of the state, the prime minister and the interior minister," he said. Lawyer Nabih el-Wahsh, who petitioned the court to implement a law that predates the Egyptian-Israel peace treaty, told The Associated Press that the ruling was a "triumph of Egyptian patriotism." Wahsh had demanded the court force the Interior Ministry, which deals with citizenship documents, to implement the 1976 article of the citizenship law revoking the citizenship of Egyptians who married Israelis who have served in the army or embrace Zionism as an ideology. The court said the measure would "avert potential damage to the country's national security," the state news agency reported. A spokesman for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry told the Post that he "never" comments on court cases. Many Egyptians living in Israel say they already have had to pay a high price for their decision. Rafik Rafael was looking for a different kind of life than what Egypt could offer him and decided that he wanted to stay in Israel after his first visit. Three months after he married an Arab-Israeli woman, he went back to Egypt to renew his passport but was told he could not leave the country for unspecified reasons. When he tried to fly out, he was stopped at the airport by security officials. His wife finally had to join him in Cairo after one year. He ended up being "stuck" there for eight years. While in Egypt, the hotel where he had previously worked refused to employ him after he had lived in Israel, saying it was a security risk. Other hotels rejected Rafael, who refused to lie on his application forms, for the same reason, he said. He was called a "traitor" by some people and he feared for the safety of his children, since many people in the neighborhood knew he had lived in Israel and assumed they were Jewish. He felt worse than dirt, he said. "Everywhere I went, nobody wanted to accept me." Today, however, Rafael worries that he could be left in Israel without any citizenship if the court decision is implemented. His dream, he said, would to become an Israeli citizen, but he was not sure the Israeli government would grant it to him. "Would they offer us citizenship or would they leave us without any?" he said. Magdy Namzy of Haifa was living in Egypt with his Arab-Israeli wife until she was suddenly ordered out of the country, along with other Arab-Israeli citizens, about 10 years ago. His wife, he said, was pregnant and had a miscarriage as a result of the ordeal. "If they take away my citizenship, he said, I will go in front of the Egyptian Embassy, and I will wage a hunger strike until I die," he said passionately. "I don't have any children. Why would I be afraid? I wouldn't be afraid of anything." AP contributed to this report.