Ramallah, Occupied West Bank – Thousands of Palestinians living in limbo and fear have been given a glimmer of hope in regard to living legally with their families after the Israeli government recently failed to renew its controversial Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law.
The law prevents Palestinian spouses from living together legally in occupied East Jerusalem, or Israel proper, if one partner is from the West Bank and the other Jerusalem or Israel – unless they can secure special permits.
It also prevents Palestinians who are married to Arab Israelis, or Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, from being naturalised unlike the spouses of Jewish citizens who are allowed to apply for Israeli citizenship. Jews from abroad are automatically entitled to apply for Israeli citizenship irrespective of their marital status.
Israel’s Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law, which was passed in 2003 ostensibly on security grounds but which critics contend is a way of favouring Israel’s Jewish demography, has been renewed on an annual basis but fell short of a majority in the Israeli Knesset, or parliament, last week.
According to Israeli rights group Hamoked, there are some 9,200 Palestinians married to Arab-Israeli citizens who have the most basic “stay permits” allowing them to live in the country but which have to be renewed every one or two years, and another 3,500 who because of special circumstances were able to obtain temporary residency visas.
More than 15,000 Palestinians have applied to live in Israel and as the expiration of the law is not retroactive it only applies to new applications.
Narrow window of opportunity
With the failure of the law’s renewal, more Palestinians will begin the arduous and expensive process of applying to the Israeli authorities to obtain residency rights for their West Bank spouses so they can live together legally in East Jerusalem or within Israel proper without fear of arrest and deportation.
However, there is no guarantee the process – which can take years and involves substantial legal fees – will result in a positive outcome as Israeli Minister of the Interior Ayalet Shaked said she planned to bring the law back to the Knesset for a vote in the next few weeks in a new attempt to get it approved, thereby closing the narrow window of opportunity for hopeful Palestinians.
Shaked, a hardline member of one of Israel’s most right-wing governments in its history, has referred to the Palestinians as “small snakes” and argues that allowing more Palestinians in is a security threat.
More moderate members of the Knesset, including Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Defence Minister Benny Gantz, have justified the law on the grounds of preserving Israel’s Jewish majority.
Lapid tweeted the law was more about demographic engineering, saying there was no need to hide from the purpose of the citizenship law.
“It’s one of the tools meant to secure a Jewish majority in Israel. Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, and our goal is that it will have a Jewish majority.”
Bayan Baidun, 34, a journalist originally from occupied East Jerusalem, is married to Eyad Jadallah from Ramallah who works at Birzeit University.
They were one of the few couples prepared to give their real names and show their faces in photos as several other couples living clandestinely in East Jerusalem, always looking over their shoulders, were afraid that talking to the media would result in either deportation or the rejection of residence applications.
Baidun chose love over living in the city she loves and grew up in. Her husband has not been allowed to live with her in Ramallah due to being from the West Bank so the couple, and their three children, have made Ramallah their home.
“The Israeli government tries hard to transfer Palestinians from Jerusalem or to restrict their options, including love. They do allow some people to get the relevant papers but it takes many years of suffering before most are refused residency by the Israeli courts,” she told Al Jazeera.
Baidun lost her Israeli health and other national insurance after she moved to Ramallah.
However, despite Baidun’s negative experiences, the couple remains hopeful and intend to try to get residency rights for Jadallah and want to rent a home in Kafr Aqab near the Qalandiya checkpoint north of Jerusalem.
“Kafr Aqab is similar to a number of places that fall within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries but behind Israel’s separation wall, which slices through parts of the West Bank dividing the occupied territory from Israel proper, even though most residents have Jerusalem IDs,” said Halima Abu Haneya, a doctor of social sciences who wrote her PhD dissertation on Jerusalem and how Palestinian residents have been forced out.
“The separation wall deviates from Israel’s internationally recognised Green Line by incorporating large swaths of the West Bank that are empty of Palestinians while cutting out areas such as Kafr Aqab and Shuafat refugee camp, with large populations, even though they are legally part of Jerusalem,” Haneya told Al Jazeera.
Abu Haneya said this was all part of a deliberate Israeli land-grab policy to favour a higher Jewish demography, which forced Palestinians to keep their addresses inside Israel so as not to lose their Jerusalem IDs as Israel requires Palestinians to repeatedly prove the city is the centre of their life.
She said this policy prevented most West Bank residents from praying at Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest site, from taking advantage of superior medical facilities and business opportunities and meeting with family and friends.
“It’s a kind of cultural genocide,” said Abu Haneya.
One couple that has given up hope completely is Adiba Ahmed, 40, and Aziz Taher, 45, from the village of Anata, which is near Jerusalem but falls within the West Bank. They have been married for eight years.
Taher is an Israeli citizen from the Galilee area in northern Israel but has been forced to relocate to the West Bank because Ahmed has not been able to live with him legally in Israel.
“My husband has to spend a lot of money on petrol travelling to visit his family in northern Israel and I join him sometimes for special holiday occasions, sneaking through the checkpoints,” Ahmed told Al Jazeera.
“Generally we are not stopped because my husband is an Israeli citizen, he has a car with a yellow number plate and we are a middle-aged couple.”
Meanwhile, all new applications for residency rights in East Jerusalem will be submitted to Shaked, after first being vetted by Israel’s domestic intelligence agency, the Shin Bet.