Israel’s high court Sunday narrowly upheld a controversial law that restricts the right of Palestinians to live in Israel with their Arab Israeli spouses and children.
The law, imposed in 2002 at the height of Israeli-Palestinian fighting, is believed to have kept hundreds, and possibly thousands, of West Bank and Gaza Palestinians from moving to Israel to live with their families.
The law states that only Palestinian women over the age of 25 and men over 35 are eligible to join their families in Israel and eventually receive citizenship. A panel judges voted 6-5 against a petition to strike it down.
“This is a very black day for the state of Israel and also a black day for my family and for the other families who are suffering like us,” said Murad el-Sana, an Israeli Arab attorney married to a Palestinian woman from the West Bank town of Bethlehem.
“The government is preventing people from conducting a normal family life just because of their nationality,” el-Sana, one of the petitioners, told Israel Radio.
The court had granted el-Sana’s wife, Abir, a temporary injunction preventing her deportation. But el-Sana said the high court’s ruling made it almost impossible for the couple and their two children, aged 2 years and five months, to continue living together.
The government argues the legislation is based on security concerns, but the restrictions also cut to a sensitive demographic issue — the fear that Israel’s Jewish majority could be threatened if too many Palestinians were granted citizenship.
In an indication of the issue’s divisiveness, the 11 judges took the unusual step of writing their own opinions.
State Prosecutor Yochi Genesim said the state has granted 6,000 of 22,000 requests for family unification since Israel and the Palestinians signed an interim peace deal in 1993. The remainder were rejected, some for security reasons, Genesim said.
Genesim said the law was necessary to prevent Palestinians from using Israeli residency or citizenship to carry out attacks against Israelis. “Today the war is conducted on the home front. You need creative ways to combat that,” she said.
Israeli Arabs are free to travel freely throughout the country, something that is difficult, and sometimes impossible, for West Bank and Gaza Palestinians.
Zehava Galon, a lawmaker for the dovish Meretz Party, slammed the high court’s decision as racist.
“We thought that the Supreme Court would be the last bastion and unfortunately, it failed in its mission,” Galon told The Associated Press. “The Supreme Court could have taken a braver decision and not relegate us to the domain of an apartheid state.”
Orna Kohn, an attorney from Adalah, a group that fights for the rights of Israeli Arabs, said the court’s ruling trampled on the basic rights of thousands of people.
“The bottom line is the Supreme Court of Israel refused to intervene with a law that is racist,” Kohn told The Associated Press.