Israeli Minister Asks Immigration Authority to Disregard Expiration of Palestinian Unification Law

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A demonstration in favor of Palestinian family unifications, in July
A demonstration in favor of Palestinian family unifications, in JulyCredit: Emil Salman

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked has ordered her ministry to handle Palestinian requests for family reunification as if a temporary law restricting such requests were still in force, even though the law expired in July.

In a letter to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the head of the Population, Immigration and Borders Authority wrote that Shaked has ordered the authority to examine the implications of the law’s expiration, including for security issues, prior to formulating a new policy on when Palestinians married to Israelis can be granted residency in Israel.

“At the same time, because this examination is likely to take time, given the complexity of the issue, the interior minister has ordered us to continue handling [applications] in accordance with the legal situation when the temporary law was in force,” the letter said.

This means, among other things, that requests will be approved only for Palestinian women over 25 and men over 35. In addition, the letter said, existing residency permits will be extended as usual.

In cases where humanitarian considerations might justify exceptions, a special professional committee will consider the applications and make recommendations to Shaked, but again, only based on “the principles and rules set by the temporary law,” the letter added.

On Tuesday, ACRI and two other organizations – Physicians for Human Rights and HaMoked: Center for the Defense of the Individual – plan to file a petition to the Jerusalem District Court about this situation. The petition argues that Shaked’s instructions leave many families torn apart, while spouses that have obtained temporary residence permits have to renew them every year through an exhausting process and are also denied the rights granted permanent residents and citizens.

For instance, they must pay more for health insurance, don’t receive pensions from the National Insurance Institute and aren’t entitled to welfare services, housing assistance or legal aid. They generally can’t get driver’s licenses or licenses to practice certain professions. And all this means they are especially vulnerable during an economic crisis like that caused the coronavirus, the petition said.

In a joint statement, the three organizations said that once the law expired, the government had no more authority “to deal a mortal blow to the constitutional rights to family life and equality.” Therefore, it said, the Interior Ministry must begin considering most requests for reunification, “fairly, without discrimination and without bureaucratic burdens.”

The temporary law was first enacted in 2003, at the height of the second intifada, and was extended every year thereafter. But this year, the new government was unable to muster a majority to extend it again.

The government’s official position has always been that the law was justified for security reasons, since some Palestinians granted residency in Israel under the family reunification process have been involved in terrorism. But before the vote on extending the law this past July, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid admitted that “the law is one of the tools meant to ensure a Jewish majority in Israel.”

While the law was in force, every reunification request was automatically rejected unless the interior minister decided otherwise. Now that it has expired, the opposite is supposed to be true – any application not rejected by the Shin Bet security service on security grounds should be automatically accepted unless the minister decides otherwise.

Consequently, once the law expired, many Palestinians previously denied reunification due to their age submitted new applications. But so far, they have either received no response or been told that “new appointments can’t be scheduled until additional instructions are received.”

Due to this refusal, several Palestinians filed their own court petitions in mid-July.

Shaked’s office said the minister has “the authority and the obligation to set new rules following the expiration of the temporary law on family reunifications. We’re at the height of the process of formulating a policy that will include both individual scrutiny and a security check.”

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