Israeli, Palestinian Perspectives Split Over Family Unification Bill

Article Summary
The family unification bill to enable Palestinian spouses of Arab Israelis to receive Israeli citizenship is perceived in Israel as a demographic threat, but for many Palestinians, it symbolizes an economic opportunity, writes Danny Rubinstein.

Obtaining an Israeli ID card or, at least, the right to residency in Jerusalem (which paves the way to eligibility for an Israeli ID card) entails substantial economic advantages for the West Bank and Gaza Palestinians. This was apparently what a Palestinian born in the West Bank town of Beit Liqya, which is situated close to Route 443 [about 20 kilometers southwest of Ramallah], had in mind when he married a Jerusalem resident and was subsequently granted an Israeli ID card under the family unification procedure. He then rented an apartment in the Arab city of Tayibe, east of Netanya [in central Israel], although he had no relatives there. His young son is suspected of perpetrating the terror attack on the bus in Tel Aviv last week [Nov. 21].

The most commonly used method [among the West Bank and Gaza Palestinians] for acquiring an Israeli ID card has been marriage to an Israeli citizen. To that end, one of the traditional rules of Palestinian society — according to which the bride invariably moves to live in her husband's house — has been breached. This has been happening for years in cases where the bride is an Arab Israeli citizen, while the bridegroom is a Palestinian resident of the territories. In such cases, the bridegroom settles with his newly married wife in Israel proper to obtain the sought-after Israeli ID card.

Ein Rafa as a case in point

The Israeli Arab village of Ein Rafa, located south of Abu Ghosh, which is discernible across Route 1 connecting Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, is another case in point. Almost all the residents of Ein Rafa are families of refugees from the Palestinian Arab village of Suba, which was depopulated and destroyed in 1948, and their descendants. Following the 1948 Arab-Israeli Independence War, some 20 residents were left in the area, who made their quarters on the banks of a nearby spring. Over the years, especially following the 1967 Six-Day War, they were granted approval for unification with their West Bank family members. Today, the village of Ein Rafa has a population of more than 1,000 residents.

According to data released by the Israeli Ministry of Interior, since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1994 pursuant to the Oslo Accords — which marked out the border line between the Palestinian Authority territories and the state of Israel — until the year 2002, approximately 130,000 West Bank and Gaza Palestinians moved into Israel proper in the framework of family unification and were granted an Israeli ID card.

The Israeli High Court of Justice refrains from action

In the past decade, considerable efforts have been made in Israel to forestall family unification, culminating in the “Citizenship Law” pushed forward by the Israeli government and ratified by the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in 2003. The move was motivated, in part, by security considerations and above all by demographic concerns. According to estimates presented by the Interior Ministry, some 200,000 Palestinians were expecting to acquire Israeli citizenship in the framework of family unification in the past decade alone. A number of appeals seeking the annulment of the law were submitted to the Israeli High Court of Justice over that time. However, they were all rejected.

While for the Israeli government it is a primarily demographic issue, from the point of view of the Palestinians, it is first and foremost a matter of economic survival. A [Palestinian] manual laborer stands to earn 200 shekels [almost $52] a day if he is legally working in Israel, as against 70 shekels [just over $18] a day in case he is engaged without the required permits. When it comes to specialized professionals, the differences in income are even more significant. What’s more, in many cases legal employment in Israel involves fringe benefits such as social security or pension — concepts that have only recently been raised for discussion in the Palestinian Authority.

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Found in: security, palestinian, israeli politics, israeli-palestinian conflict, israel, human rights, citizenship
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