450 Palestinians Denied Israeli Residency Despite Interior Minister's Promise

'Data testifies to ongoing injustice,' Israeli-Arab lawmaker says after Israel denies status to Palestinians as part of family unification

East Jerusalem's Interior Ministry building in 2016
Emil Salman

Israel's Interior Minister Arye Dery announced that nearly 450 Palestinians who were expected to receive residency status as part of the so-called "family unification" arrangement failed to meet the required criteria for naturalization. These Palestinians will not receive permanent residency or temporary residency status.

The move follows a government commitment, made in response to an April 2016 High Court petition, to grant some 2,000 temporary visas for Palestinians living in Israel, while not granting them official status or social benefits.

Israel allows Palestinian spouses of Israeli Arabs to apply for citizenship through a process called family unification. A similar process allows for the naturalization of spouses of Palestinians who are not citizens of Israel - but permanent residents, though this process takes longer. Most family unification applications in Israel are submitted on behalf of a Palestinian spouse living in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip.

Israeli-Arab lawmaker Aida Touma-Suleiman (Joint Arab List), attempting to follow up on the court ruling, lodged a formal request with Dery to follow up on the matter. Dery informed her last week that hundreds of the Palestinians who were on the list given to the court and slated for residency would not be granted temporary status after all.

"From 2,020 potential cases 1,533 were found to be suited 449 other requests were found to be no longer applicable by the minister," the document said. Some 106 of the nearly 500 of the requests were rejected on criminal or security grounds.

According to Dery, there are other reasons an application can be denied, but no data about these requests were given besides a number of requests where applicants have since died. Some 38 requests are still pending.

Dery added that in the 14 years since legislation was enacted to allow Israel to grant or deny residency (as opposed to citizenship) as part of family unification, the status of 2,569 Palestinians was addressed accordingly.

MK Touma-Suleiman, enraged by the data, said "the Interior Ministry's promise from last year is the bare minimum [of what Israel can do], and even that it can't make good on."

"This data testifies to the ongoing injustice that the ban on family unification causes. Behind every denied request there is the story of a family whose only crime is being born Palestinian," she continued.

MK Touma-Suleiman further criticized a law preventing family unification, which is expected to be extended once again, saying "this law is a testimony to racism at its finest. It's hard to find any other reason for it. It joins a long line of legislation and racist guidelines which persecute the Palestinian people. Every once and a while they put the law to a vote in a moral test for the legislature, and every time it fails morality and values."