Israel's Interior Ministry refuses to process requests for family unification of Palestinians married to Israeli citizens – although the temporary ban on such family unification expired over two weeks ago.
Haaretz has learned that Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked ordered the ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority, which handles requests of this type, not to discuss them as long as the ministry has not formulated a policy on the subject, after the amendment to the Citizenship and Entry Into Israel Law, which bans such unification, failed to pass in the Knesset.
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The temporary order expired on July 6, after the government coalition was unable to achieve the majority required for extending it. The temporary order was passed as an emergency amendment to the Citizenship Law during the second intifada in 2003, and since then it has been extended every year. The government claims that the amendment was passed for security reasons, due to the involvement in terrorism of Palestinian residents of the territories who received a permit to live in Israel for family unification.
The amendment imposed two main restrictions on family unification between Palestinians and Israelis: It did not allow Palestinians to receive the status of citizen, but at most to receive a residence permit in Israel (also called a “family unification permit”), which is equivalent to a work permit and is renewed every year or two. Nor did it allow submission of a request for family unification before the age of 35 for Palestinian men or 25 for Palestinian women.
As long as the temporary order was in force, every request submitted to the Interior Ministry was automatically rejected, by dint of the law, unless the interior minister decided otherwise. After the validity of the temporary order expired, the situation was supposed to be reversed – every request was supposed to be examined by the Shin Bet security service, and if there was no security reason for denying it, it would be automatically approved unless the interior minister objected.
With the expiration of the temporary order, Palestinian families wanted to submit requests for unification – both new requests for Palestinians under 35 years of age, and requests for an upgrade from a family unification permit to citizenship. But Haaretz has learned that Palestinians’ requests to the Population and Immigration Authority after the expiration of the temporary order have not been answered, or the reply has been: “At this stage we are unable to make new appointments, until the receipt of further instructions.”
After the refusal by the Population and Immigration Authority to handle Palestinians’ requests, several of them turned to the authority recently in a warning letter before initiating legal proceedings. In the letter they write that if their requests are not handled, they intend to turn to the courts.
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In a letter sent by attorney Michal Luft, the petitioners’ representative, to Yoel Lipovetzky, head of the Population Authority, the authority’s legal adviser Daniel Salomon, and the deputy director of the authority’s Hadera office Orit Hecht, she wrote: “With the expiration of the temporary order law, no normative vacuum has been created regarding requests by Palestinians married to Israelis. The law relevant to them is the Citizenship Law, and the regulation relevant to them is ‘the regulation for granting status to a foreign partner married to an Israeli citizen/permanent resident.’ Therefore the Interior Ministry does not have the privilege of delaying appointments, handling the requests and deciding on them.”
Luft argues that the Population Authority’s waiting for further instructions from the authority headquarters is also irrelevant. “My clients are entitled to receive a reply in accordance with the law existing at present,” she wrote. “In any case there is no need for further instructions in order to handle the requests, and such instructions cannot create restrictions or conditions – whether bureaucratic or fundamental – that are not mandated by the law.”
Luft told Haaretz, “The Interior Ministry is behaving in an illegal manner,” and that it cannot delay the handling of the requests, “not even for a single day after the expiration of the validity of the amendment to the Citizenship Law. There are thousands of families here that are waiting impatiently for family unification or an upgrade in status, and this waiting, when the legal situation has changed, is illegal and discriminatory.”
The Population Authority replied: “As a rule, the expiration of the Citizenship and Entry Into Israel Law (temporary order) is accompanied by intentions that have implications for the work of the professionals. As the employees of the authority have been instructed, until the formulation of suitable work procedures, requests for the extension of existing permits for petitioners who are already in the process will be extended. New requests for those who want to begin a procedure for receiving [citizenship] status will be handled when the regulation is finalized. Requests for a status upgrade will also be handled when the regulation is finalized, and until then the present permit will be extended.”