ACRI Slams Interior Min. for Human Rights Violations

"The Ministry - Violation of Human Rights by the Ministry of the Interior's Population Registry" is the name of a 50-page report published this week by the Association of Human Rights in Israel (ACRI), documenting the difficulties faced by thousands of people who live in Israel but are not eligible for citizenship based on the Law of Return.

The report, written by ACRI attorney Oded Feller, describes how the Population Registry "views itself as defender of the Jewish character of the state," leading to flagrant violations of human rights. According to the report, the Interior Ministry routinely tramples the dignity of many people "only because they are non-Jews" and also that of Israeli citizens who have chosen to share their lives with citizens of other countries. The report is comprised of three chapters, covering the policy of granting residency and citizenship to non-Jews, violation of the basic right to lead a family life when one member of a couple is non-Jewish, and lastly, a chapter describing "organized and methodical bureaucratic harassment," whose purpose is to "wear down applicants whose requests the Ministry of Interior does not want to grant."

l The policy of granting residency and citizenship: Those not entitled to citizenship through the Law of Return may become permanent residents of Israel (e.g., if the person is the spouse of an Israeli citizen, or the child of an Israeli citizen and a foreign citizen). Requests for permanent residency are screened by an inter-ministerial committee within the Population Registry. The report claims that in this realm, the committee's workings are "shrouded in mist," the identity of its members and the times and venue where it meets are unknown, and the criteria it uses have not been made public.

l Children without formal status: The ACRI report claims that according to Interior Ministry data, thousands of children who are deprived of civilian status are living in Israel - including children of migrant workers, Palestinian children, children residing in East Jerusalem and children from previous marriages of persons married to Israelis. The report says that the ministry generally takes the position that there is no way to resolve the problem of the status of children who are not covered by the Law of Return, ignoring their rights to citizenship and those concerning protection of the family.

l Violation of the basic right to family life: The ACRI report claims that the minister of the interior is waging an "all-out war" against Israelis and their non-Israeli spouses and against foreign parents of Israeli citizens. Arab citizens and residents who want to create a family with non-Israeli partners are subject to "methodical harassment." Despite the fact that the right to family life is grounded in Israeli and international law, "the Interior Ministry considers granting permanent residency to spouses of Israelis as a favor, and not a basic right," the report says.

Avraham Poraz, whose dismissal from his post as interior minister came into effect Saturday night, responded to the report by saying: "I do not overlook the ministry's failures. For 40 years the ministry was run predominantly by religious ministers, which had a deep effect on the ministry's policy and personnel. A new director was appointed to the Population Registry four months ago in order to improve the situation."

The Population Registry's response: "The report is one-sided and tendentious, representing the registry's workers as though they were self-appointed. The registry's workers act according to the law, policy, government decisions and High Court decisions. The negative portrayal does not reflect the complex day-to-day work of the Population Registry."