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July 14, 2004

Palestinians Run Into Another Wall

by Sanjay Suri

This other wall is not so visible as the controversial "security barrier" Israel is building around itself, but it is as real. It divides thousands of Palestinians from one another, and it does not look like it is going to come down.

The name of this wall is The Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law that bars Israelis married to Palestinians from the occupied territories from living with their spouses in Israel.

Amnesty International protested in a report published Tuesday against the law, due to come up for renewal in the Israeli parliament at the end of this month. The report "Torn Apart: Families Split by Discriminatory Policies" details the havoc this law is causing among Palestinians.

"It is very difficult to estimate the numbers affected because many people who applied are not getting a response, and others do not apply for fear that their spouses within Israel might be expelled," author of the report Donatella Rovera told IPS. "But we are talking about thousands here."

The Israelis here really are Israeli citizens of Palestinian origin who number about a million in an Israeli population of six million.

"It is Palestinians who are Israeli citizens who marry into families in the occupied territories," Rovera said. "The law discriminates explicitly against Palestinians from the occupied territories, but implicitly against Palestinians who are citizens of Israel who marry someone from the occupied territories," she said. "This legislation is a clearly discriminatory piece of legislation."

The law means that thousands who happen to be in the occupied territories are unable to with their spouses within Israel.

"After 14 years of marriage, my husband and the father of my children has no right to sleep in our home, he has no right to kiss his daughters goodnight, no right to be there if they get sick at night," Terry Bullata, a 38-year-old school principal from Jerusalem was quoted as saying in the report.

"What logic is there for forcing families to go through such hell every day, year after year," she added.

Salwa Abu Jaber, a 29-year-old kindergarten assistant from Umm al-Ghanam in Northern Israel is quoted as saying: "At the Interior Ministry they told me to either get divorced or to go live in the West Bank. But I love my husband and he loves me and we don't want to divorce and I don't want to take my children to live in the West Bank in the middle of a war and insecurity."

The law was passed at the end of July last year, "but before that the Israeli ministry of interior had set in place discriminatory policies that worked pretty much as the law," Rovera said. "The law only gave the practice a parliamentary stamp."

The Israeli Parliament is all set to extend the law. Any change would have meant the setting up of a committee to review the law, but no such committee has been set up. Officials from the Israeli ministry of Interior have indicated that the law will be extended, Rovera said.

"But still we must bring pressure to bear on the Israeli parliament not to renew the law," Rovera said. "These are not times when such openly racist laws can be acceptable."

Amnesty said in a statement that the law "institutionalizes racial discrimination contravening international human rights and humanitarian law. Without the right to family unification, thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel and Jerusalem residents can either have their spouse live with them illegally, in daily fear of expulsion, or the whole family must leave the country."

The Israeli government has justified the law on security grounds, saying it is intended to reduce the potential threat of attacks in Israel by Palestinians.

Amnesty says that Israeli ministers and officials have "repeatedly described the percentage of Palestinian citizens of Israel as a demographic threat and a threat to the Jewish character of the state. This suggests that the law is part of a long standing policy aimed at restricting the number of Palestinians who are allowed to live in Israel and in East Jerusalem."

Amnesty is demanding repeal of the act, resumption of the processing of family unification applications on a principle of non-discrimination, processing the backlog of thousands of applications and providing details to any rejected applicant so they could challenge the decision.

(Inter Press Service)

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