The Jerusalem Post
‘We live life on the edge. We can’t plan a future as other families can’
Israeli-Arabs express their frustration, anger regarding family reunification law
Asmahan Jabali’s husband is an Israeli citizen, born in Taiba. However, Jabali, who has been married for 26 years, does not have Israeli citizenship.
According to the “family unification law” she’s considered a security threat and a Knesset vote on Monday to extend the law could keep it that way.
“The families [aren’t a threat],” Jabali said. “[The government] wants these families to continue suffering.”
She said she was ineligible for citizenship, under the law, formally known as the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law of 2003, which prevents Israelis from transferring their Israeli citizenship to their Palestinian spouses.
The law was first passed in 2003, at the height of the Second Intifada, and requires annual renewal.
Most MKs who support the law cite security as the main reason. Someone with ill intentions could theoretically move freely between Israel and the West Bank and potentially smuggle weapons over the border or commit a terrorist attack.
Normally, if an Israeli citizen marries someone from another country, the spouse is eligible to obtain Israeli citizenship. However, for Jabali and for other couples, like Taiseer and Lana Khatib from Acre, the law is preventing them from having the same right.
Taiseer, an Acre resident and Israeli citizen whose wife Lana was born in the West Bank city of Jenin and isn’t a citizen, said the security argument has no basis.
“How does Israel allow hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to pass through the ‘separation fence’ to work in Israel?” he said. “How does it allow hundreds of thousands of workers to gather in its territory?”
Jabali said she just wants to support her family.
“If my child is sick and needs surgery, I can’t sign off on it,” she said. “They’re asking me to pay for vaccines. We just want to live in peace. What did I do? I’ve been living here for 26 years!”
There are many things the law prevents Khatib and Jabali from doing. They can’t get an Israeli drivers’ license and they can’t travel abroad with their families. They also need to pay for DNA tests to prove they are the mother of their children. Jabali said she wants Israeli citizenship to avoid dealing with these and other challenges.
“We live life on the edge,” Khatib said. “We face immense fear that [the Israeli government] will not renew Lana’s permit. We can’t plan a future as other families can. Lana isn’t free here.”
The easy solution would be to give these people citizenship. However, giving it to them could shift Israel’s demographics in a way that would make Arab parties more popular. Khatib claimed that the Israeli government is far more concerned with demographics than Palestinians are, and claimed that the law is “racist.”
“Instead of conducting an individual examination in each case, the law suspects all Palestinians of being dangerous.” Oded Feller, director of the legal department for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, said.
“No security consideration guides this legislation, because tens of thousands of Palestinians are in Israel at any given moment,” Feller added. “The only reason for this law is demographic – to prevent Arab citizens from living together in Israel as equal citizens.”
Jabali was open to legislation that kept Israeli security interests in mind but also supported the needs of these families, particularly by differentiating between threats and non-threats to Israel. She didn’t explain exactly how she thought that could work.
Arab Israeli civil rights group Mossawa said there are currently 45,000 applications for Israeli citizenship from spouses of current citizens, citing the Interior Ministry. There were 41,215 that were approved, but only for temporary residence permits. They must be renewed every year.
A Shin Bet (Israeli Security Agency) investigation found that men over 50 and women over 55 don’t pose a “national security” threat to Israel, according to Mossawa. That is much more of a concern among those aged 14-18, the report found.
Jabali noted that since the law makes it harder for these families to earn a living, a vast majority of them live below the poverty line. She said she’s lucky that her husband makes a decent living, but is almost entirely dependent on him.
“Many families are unable to afford the costs of healthcare,” Mossawa founder Jafar Farah said. “The children of these families are required to prove every year their place of residence. They have many difficulties in finding work, acquiring driving licenses, and traveling abroad.”
The law has broad support among MKs, but the coalition hasn’t been able to get the Ra’am (United Arab List) Party and some left-wing MKs on board yet. The law can’t pass without the coalition’s full support.
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked (Yamina) and Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas met on Wednesday to discuss the law. Abbas wanted to make the law more humanitarian, but the two couldn’t reach an agreement.
A vote on the law was pushed off from Wednesday to Monday because of the opposition to the bill. The deadline to renew the bill is on Tuesday.