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A legal challenge to a law that bans Palestinians from living in Israel with spouses who are Israeli citizens was rejected by a panel of Supreme Court justices yesterday.

The judges were divided in their stance on the Citizenship Law, with six justices voting to uphold it and five opposing it. The six recognized the existence of couples' constitutional right to live together but added that this does not necessarily require that they make their home in Israel. The majority ruled that even if the law did harm constitutional rights such as the right to equality, the infringement was proportional and not in conflict with Israel's Basic Laws, the set of legislation with constitutional standing.

The dissenting justices, who included Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, took the position that the Citizenship Law violated the Basic Laws, saying that it also violated the constitutional principle of equality because the vast majority of Israeli citizens deprived of reunification with their Palestinian relatives would be Israeli Arabs.

The legal challenge was mounted by the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, the Association of Civil Rights in Israel, as well as affected individuals, among others.

The Citizenship Law is temporary legislation that only allows reunification in Israel of Palestinians with an Israeli spouse if it involves a Palestinian husband who is at least 36 years of age or if it involves a Palestinian wife who is at least 26.

The decision to refuse to allow couples to live together in Israel was initially taken by the government in May 2002. The Knesset affirmed the policy the following year and has since extended its initial expiration date twice. The extensions came despite petitions filed in the High Court of Justice challenging the provision.

Israel generally grants citizenship to spouses of Israelis in a gradual process. In the spirit of this process, a similar process was established for the naturalization of spouses of permanent residents, though the process is a little longer. A 2002 temporary order excluded Palestinian spouses from these processes and barred them from becoming Israeli citizens.

Arabs make up about 20 percent of Israel's population of 7 million. About 3 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Many families were divided by cease-fire lines after wars and, over the years, marriage between the two groups has been common.

Since 1993, more than 100,000 Palestinians have obtained Israeli permits in this manner and some Israelis see this as a security threat.

The Adalah Center issued a statement yesterday saying, "The High Court of Justice today approved a law the likes of which does not exist in any democratic state in the world, depriving citizens from maintaining a family life in Israel only on the basis of the ethnic affiliation of the male or female spouse. The ruling proves how much the situation regarding the civil rights of the Arab minority in Israel is declining into a highly dangerous and unprecedented situation."

The justices upholding the constitutionality of the law were Eliezer Rivlin, Asher Dan Grunis, Miriam Naor, Elyakim Rubinstein, Hanan Melcer and Neal Hendel.