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Israel: Revoke Discriminatory Law

Letter to Knesset Members on renewal of "Citizenship and Entry into Israel" Law

Human Rights Watch is extremely concerned by the proposed renewal of the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law (Temporary Order)-2003 ("the law"). The law, originally enacted in July 2003, prohibits the granting of any residency or citizenship status to Palestinians from the Occupied Territories who are married to Israeli citizens or permanent residents.

The law targets a category of individuals exclusively on the basis of nationality, and prevents them from living with their spouses and children in Israel or East Jerusalem. It denies Israeli citizens who marry residents of the Occupied Territories a right enjoyed by all other Israeli citizens, that is, the right to live with their loved ones in the place of their choosing and the right to be protected from arbitrary or unlawful interference in the family. The law has had a particularly devastating impact on the lives of Palestinians citizens of Israel, as well as Palestinians who live in East Jerusalem.

By not allowing Palestinian residents of the Occupied Territories to join their citizen or resident spouses in Israel or East Jerusalem, the law forces them to make a costly choice. Either they must live separately, or the Israeli citizen or resident must move to the Occupied Territories. The consequences for Palestinians of moving to the Occupied Territories include the loss of their residency status in Israel or East Jerusalem or the loss of their ability to exercise rights related to residency or citizenship such as the right to receive social security benefits. In doing this, Israel violates its obligation under international law to respect the right of permanent residents and citizens to live in their country. A consequence of these difficult choices is that thousands of Palestinian families are splintered, and children are effectively precluded from living in a home with both their parents.

Both the United Nation's Human Rights Committee (HRC) and the Committee on Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) have expressed their concern regarding the law and have called for it to be revoked. In August 2003, HRC concluded that Israel "should revoke" the law "which raises serious issues under articles 17, 23 and 26” of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and "reconsider its policy with a view to facilitating family reunification of all citizens and permanent residents."

In August 2003, CERD stated that the suspension of the family reunification policy in May 2002, which previously dictated the procedure for seeking residency status, "has already adversely affected many families and marriages." CERD noted that the law "raises serious issues under the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination" and called upon Israel to "revoke this law, and reconsider its policy with a view to facilitating family unification on a non-discriminatory basis."

Israel's legitimate security concerns cannot justify the sweeping scope of this law which violates the basic human rights of thousands of citizens and permanent residents. All measures taken by the government of Israel to address its security concerns must conform with international human rights standards.

In addition, Human Rights Watch notes that the law contravenes the principle of nondiscrimination set out in Articles 2 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Article 1 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), Article 2 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and Article 2 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Israel has ratified these conventions of its own free will and is bound to respect their provisions. Under the ICCPR, which Israel ratified in 1991, even "in time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation," Israel is prohibited from taking measures that would "involve discrimination solely on the ground of race, colour, sex, language, religion or social origin."

Furthermore, Israel's obligations under international human rights law are not limited to refraining from discriminating on the basis of nationality or ethnic origin, but also include the obligation to protect the family as a fundamental unit of society, including the establishment of families. These obligations are set out in Article 10 of the ICESCR, Article 23 of the ICCPR, and Articles 7 through 10 of the Convention of the Rights of the Child.

We call upon you to vote against the extension of the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law (Temporary Order)-2003 and bring an end to this overt form of discrimination. We also call upon you to facilitate family reunification of all citizens and permanent residents by passing a citizenship law that conform to international human rights standards.

Sincerely yours,

Sarah Leah Whitson
Executive Director, Middle East and North Africa Division

Mr. Reuven Rivlin, Chairman of the Knesset
Mr. Menachem Mazuz, Attorney General.

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