Israel to vote on renewing law that keeps out Palestinian spouses

Israel’s parliament is set to vote on Monday on whether to renew a temporary law first enacted in 2003 that bars Palestinian citizens of Israel from extending citizenship or even residency to spouses from the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

Critics, including many left-wing and Palestinian Israeli legislators, say it is a racist measure aimed at restricting the growth of Israel’s Palestinian minority, while supporters say it is needed for security purposes and to preserve Israel’s Jewish character.

The law creates an array of difficulties for Palestinian families that span the largely invisible frontiers separating Israel from the occupied territories of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip – territories it seized in the 1967 war that the Palestinian leadership wants for a future state.

The vote is expected late on Monday.

‘Afraid all the time’

The Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law was enacted as a temporary measure in 2003, at the height of the second Intifada, or uprising, when in response to Israel’s escalating and violent measures in the occupied territories, Palestinians launched many deadly attacks inside Israel.

Proponents of the law said Palestinians from the occupied West Bank and Gaza were susceptible to recruitment by armed groups and that security vetting alone was insufficient.

The law has been renewed even after the uprising wound down in 2005 and the number of attacks plummeted. Today, Israel allows more than 100,000 Palestinian workers from the occupied West Bank to enter on a regular basis.

“It was passed in the middle of the Intifada, and now we are in a very different period in time,” Yuval Shany, a legal expert at the Israel Democracy Institute, told The Associated Press.

Not only are attacks far rarer, but Israel has vastly improved its technological abilities to monitor Palestinians who enter, he said.

“I don’t think the security argument is very strong at this point in time.”

Because of the law, Palestinian citizens of Israel have few, if any, avenues for bringing spouses from the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip into Israel. The policy affects thousands of families.

Mohammed Zaatreh, a Palestinian who carries a West Bank ID, lives in occupied East Jerusalem with his wife and daughter, both of whom have Jerusalem IDs.

Every 12 months, he has to apply for a special Israeli military permit just to live in his own home. The permit excludes him from having Israeli health insurance, most forms of employment, an Israeli driver’s licence, and, he says, peace of mind.

His wife Hanadi Gheith said that if the citizenship law was scrapped, the family would have more freedom.

“He could work easily, move easily, travel and live daily life more easily,” she said.

“Unlike when you don’t have anything and you’re afraid all the time, scared.”

Male spouses over the age of 35 and female spouses over the age of 25, as well as some humanitarian cases, can apply for the equivalent of a tourist permit, which must be regularly renewed.

Palestinian spouses from Gaza have been completely banned since Hamas seized control there in 2007.

The law does not apply to the nearly 500,000 Jewish settlers who live in the occupied West Bank, who have full Israeli citizenship. Under Israel’s Law of Return, Jews who come to Israel from anywhere in the world are eligible for citizenship.

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