New Study again confirms Israel has firm security reasons for controversial “Citizenship Law”
Mar 7, 2022 | Judy Maynard
In the wake of Amnesty International’s widely discredited report labelling Israel an apartheid state, many pro-Palestinian activists have focused on the report’s claims about Israel’s controversial “Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law” passed in 2003, which bars Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza from automatically gaining residency rights in Israel if they marry an Israeli citizen.
For example, an article by local Palestinian activist Noura Mansour, published in the Canberra Times on Feb 5, emotively put this law at the centre of her argument, even if she did not refer to it by name.
Amnesty and Mansour both present the law as pure discrimination against Palestinians, while downplaying or ignoring entirely the reality that this law was created as a reasonable response to barbaric Palestinian terrorist attacks against Israelis. Moreover, there is very good evidence that this law – which is temporary and expires if not renewed yearly, and is actually not currently in effect as of today – is both necessary and effective in reducing terrorism and violence.
The latest such evidence comes from a new study into perpetrators of violent riots in the mixed Arab-Jewish cities of Lod and Ramle during May 2021’s Israel-Hamas war, as will be discussed below.
The emotive claims of Noura Mansour
In the Canberra Times piece mentioned above, Mansour, an Arab Israeli citizen, claims that she was forced to marry alone, without her husband present. She does not explain why this was the case, but is deliberately vague as to the circumstances, the point of the article being not to inform but to make an emotive point.
The “absurd situation” of marrying without her husband, Mansour disingenuously contends, is due to the fact that neither she nor her husband are Jewish. This red herring may have led some of her readers to mistakenly think that in Israel only Jewish couples can marry in each other’s presence.
In fact, in Israel, marriages are performed by the religious authorities of the community – whether Jewish, Muslim, Druze or Christian – to which the couple belongs.
After this initial misdirection, Mansour makes a vague reference to “family reunification”, but from the anti-Israel screed that follows, appears to be more intent on shedding heat than light, failing to explain what this has to do with her lonely nuptials.
The background to the law and the terrorism that prompted it
The Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law was introduced in 2003, during the intense violence of the Second Intifada, in an attempt to prevent terror attacks by Palestinians living in the West Bank or Gaza, who by virtue of the family reunification process could obtain Israeli citizenship or residency through marrying Israelis, and thus gain legal entry into Israel to carry out attacks.
The law was intended as a temporary measure, but was renewed each year until 2021, when efforts to extend it failed. This was due to both opposition from some parties within Israel’s diverse ruling coalition, and some complex political machinations by opposition parties seeking to destabilise the Government. So it is not currently in effect, although there are efforts in train to try to pass a new version of the law.
In the years following the signing of the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians in 1993 and 1995, approximately 130,000 Palestinians were granted residency in Israel under family unification arrangements.
Then, just a few years later during the Second Intifada (2000-2005), Palestinian terrorists carried out hundreds of suicide attacks that resulted in the deaths of more than 1,000 Israelis.
One of the bloodiest of these was perpetrated by Shadi Tubasi who lived in Jenin and who had acquired Israeli citizenship through his mother. In March 2002, at a busy Haifa restaurant during the Passover holiday, Tubasi blew himself up together with 16 Israelis, including children, and wounded another 40.
Tubasi’s Israeli identity card was seen as helping to enable the attack and this rapidly led to calls for the suspension of the family reunion process. The temporary Citizenship Law came a year later.
Tubasi was not the first to exploit Israeli citizenship gained through family reunification with such violent effect, nor the last.
Others have included Mohammad Abdel Jafari Nasser, who in 2012 wounded 26 Israelis in an attack on a Tel Aviv bus; Mohand al-Uqabi, son of an Israeli father and mother from Gaza, who murdered an Israeli soldier at Beersheba Central Bus Station; and Khaled Abu Jaudah, who also murdered a soldier, at a bus stop in Arad.
According to Israel’s internal security service, the Shin Bet, approximately 155 of the beneficiaries of family reunification or their immediate descendants have been involved in terror attacks in Israel since 2001.
Law’s security purpose upheld in the face of legal challenges
The Citizenship Law allows for many exceptions – providing family unification for Palestinian males over 35 and females over 25; for minors up until the age of 18; and for individuals in Israel for purposes of work or medical treatment.
Nevertheless, the undoubted hardship and pain it has caused Palestinian/Arab Israeli couples and their families has led to legal challenges.
Yet Israel’s Supreme Court has twice upheld the Citizenship Law, in 2006 and 2012.
In 2012, the court split six to five, but all judges recognised the law’s valid national security rationale. The disagreement between the majority and minority was where the balance between concern for this imperative and for family unification rights should be struck.
Justice Melcer, writing as part of the the majority, noted the significant number of Palestinians involved in terror activities after acquiring citizenship or residency through family reunification. Alluding to the difficulties encountered by authorities judging the suitability of applicants from a security perspective by attempting to screen them, he stated:
“It will be stressed that in relation to these applicants, the information from which it emerged that they were perpetrators, terrorists or helpers was discovered after the individual screening had not produced any suspicious information in relation to them.
Hence one can discern the inherent difficulty in relying on detailed screening, while ignoring the age-risk profile of the inhabitants of the Palestinian Authority.
The activity of terrorist organizations is based on the recruitment and identification of activists who are not known to the security forces in Israel from the outset as terror activists, in the format of penetration into Israel by means of marriage. For these seekers of status individual screening is in any case not effective.”
Deputy Court President Rivlin stated:
“The purpose of the Law in this case is security-related, and it is to reduce, insofar as possible, the security risk posed by the foreign spouses who enter Israel. At the basis of the legislation lay the security concern about involvement in terrorist activity on the part of the Palestinian spouses, who hold Israeli identity cards by virtue of their marriage to Israeli partners. The concern is about abuse of this status in Israel – a status which allows for free movement between the area of the Palestinian Authority and Israel. History shows that this is not a baseless concern.
…It has been proven in the past that terrorist organizations will recruit a spouse who is an inhabitant of the Area to their ranks only after that spouse has acquired a permit allowing him/her to enter Israel and to move about freely. In the task of balancing between reducing the carnage and ensuring life on the one hand, and the harm caused to some Israeli citizens who wish to live with foreign spouses in Israel – the benefit [of the Law] exceeds the damage.”
Court President Beinisch, one of the dissenting judges, concurred that:
“a certain number of spouses of Israeli citizens, who were permitted to live in Israel for the sake of family reunification, have abused their status and joined terrorist organizations; and ultimately, it was murderous terrorist attacks that spawned the need to legislate the Law and to adopt additional security measures.”
Meanwhile Justices Naor and Hendel observed that in other democratic states, there was no constitutional right to bring a foreign spouse into the country. As Justice Hendel observed, “A state is entitled to set immigration law, and the hearts’ desire of its citizens cannot dictate policy in this area. This is so in general, and it is particularly so if the partner is a citizen or inhabitant of an enemy state or entity.”
Amnesty’s misleading omissions about the law
Given the indisputable life-saving anti-terror rationale underpinning the introduction and almost continuous yearly renewal of the Citizenship Law, it is very telling that Amnesty International, and other anti-Israel activists like Noura Mansour, entirely omit any reference to this rationale. Instead, they present it as simply a racist attempt to exclude Palestinians from becoming Israelis.
Typical of Amnesty’s report as a whole, its account of the Citizenship Law is so selective and devoid of context as to be misleading.
It quotes Avraham Poraz, Israel’s Interior Minister in 2003 – as saying “that the government decision to freeze family unification in March 2003 was taken because ‘it was felt that it [family unification] would be exploited to achieve a creeping right of return… That is tens of thousands of Palestinian Arabs are coming into the State of Israel.’”
But that is not what Poraz, a member of the left-wing Meretz party now retired from politics, says today – he was likely summarising one view he heard, not the primary one, in the quote attributed to him.
Interviewed recently, he expressed his view that the law was no longer necessary but said he had supported it in 2003 “as a necessary evil”. “When you’re fighting terror,” he said, “there are a number of options at your disposal. But it was decided to stop [family unification] specifically because there was evidence some were involved in terror activities, especially the children of mixed families.”
No accurate understanding of the reason for the Citizenship Law’s enactment is to be gained from a reading of Amnesty’s biased report.
Notwithstanding two Supreme Court cases which deal at length with the statute and clearly recognise that its objective is the saving of human life and not discrimination, Amnesty is silent on security justification for the law. Set on a predetermined course to find Israel guilty of apartheid, Amnesty deals with the subject under the heading “Separation of Families through Discriminating Laws”, as if this were its purpose.
New Study supports the ongoing security case for the law
Yet a recent study indicates that the original underlying security concerns have not disappeared – and that Palestinians who move to Israel from the West Bank and Gaza under family unification provisions are still a significant potential source of terrorism and violence. This is not surprising since they are effectively coming to Israel “from an enemy state or entity,” as Justice Hendel noted.
Israeli Hebrew language daily Maariv reported on February 20 this year that the majority of Arab Israeli citizens charged with violence during rioting that occurred in the mixed Arab-Jewish cities of Lod and Ramle during the May 2021 Israel-Hamas war were from families that had benefitted from the family reunification law.
A review of more than 120 police reports and court files found that about 60% of rioters arrested for allegedly injuring Jewish residents or security forces were first degree relatives of Israeli Arab/Palestinian couples – that is, families in which one parent came from either the West Bank or Gaza.
For indictments, the figure rose to 63%. Individuals from such families were responsible for many of the most serious incidents: three Arabs charged with the murder of one of two Jews killed in the riots; three brothers who made Molotov cocktails with which they firebombed Jewish apartments in Lod; and another man charged with attempted murder after shooting a medical first responder in the leg.
Israel’s Shin Bet security service reported to the government, in relation to terrorist activities in 2020-2021, that Hamas had actively been trying to recruit descendants of families benefitting from family reunification for terrorist attacks and intelligence gathering.
Often these attempts took place when individuals, residing in such cities as Lod and Rehovot and in Bedouin communities in the Negev, came to visit relatives in Gaza. The Shin Bet concluded that these second-generation citizens often experienced conflicting loyalties, much more so than Arabs with parents who are both Israeli citizens.
Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar also noted that these descendants of Palestinians from the territories living in Israel were disproportionately involved in violent riots that took place in the Negev in January this year, just as they had been in Lod and Ramle in 2021.
Clearly Hamas sees ongoing advantage for their terrorist efforts against Israel in continuing to exploit the family reunification law.
Like Amnesty International, in her diatribe, Noura Mansour omitted any mention of terrorist attacks or other documented violence by Palestinians exploiting family unification, asserting instead that “Denying the right to family reunification is one of many forms of abuse Israel inflicts on the Palestinian people. It is an example of how Israel exerts its control and domination through oppressive and violent power structures over 14 million Palestinians, in and outside of Palestine.”
Violence is indeed at the heart of the Citizenship Law, but it is the murderous violence of Palestinian terrorists. It is they who have in the past committed – and still continue to commit – the abuses that have made the Citizenship Law necessary to protect people’s lives.