Knesset Revisits Debate on Ban on Israeli-Palestinian Family Unification

An emergency regulation which has been in place since 2003 allows the government to refuse residency visas to Palestinians who are married to Israelis or have first-degree relatives here

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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A meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Jerusalem, May 2020
A meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Jerusalem, May 2020Credit: Adina Wallman/ Knesset Speaker's Office
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

As a Knesset committee prepares to discuss on Monday extending an emergency order barring family unifications between Israeli citizens and Palestinians by one year, the Knesset’s legal advisers recommended that lawmakers instead consider passing a law containing the provisions of the order.

The proposed extension was submitted to a joint panel of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee.

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The regulation allows the government to refuse residency visas to Palestinians who are married to Israelis or have first-degree relatives here. It is billed as a security regulation, based on information the Shin Bet security service has given the Knesset in recent years about terrorists’ plans to exploit the family reunification process to enter Israel through marriage and then commit attacks.

Unusually, however, the law was never enacted as ordinary legislation. Rather, it was enacted as an emergency regulation in 2003, at the height of the second intifada, and ever since, the Knesset has voted every year to extend it for another year. It is currently set to expire in mid-June.

The legal advisers therefore urged the committee to consider replacing the emergency regulation with ordinary legislation.

“The current process only allows the Knesset to extend or not extend the emergency regulation, unlike the ordinary legislative process, which also allows changes in the regulations to be proposed and discussed,” they wrote.

“In our view, after 17 years, there are grounds to rethink the process of extending the regulation’s validity and consider replacing it with the normal process for extending emergency regulations, which is through the standard legislative process, which will also enable making changes in the arrangements if necessary.”

In addition, they said, committee members should demand current data from the Shin Bet on attempts by terrorists to exploit the law to enter Israel. “Given the harm the law does to the right to family life and equality, and given its security purpose, the committee must be convinced that the security circumstances justify continuing to extend its tenure,” they wrote.

Joint List MK Yousef Jabareen has asked the Knesset’s acting legal advisor to stop the committee from extending the law in a way that undermines the legislature’s ability to oversee it.

“This is one of the most racist and harmful laws on Israel’s books,” Jabareen wrote. “The time has come to repeal the law and regularize the status of thousands of families whose lives the law embitters every day.”

The bill also bars family reunifications with Iranian, Lebanese, Syrian and Iraqi nationals.

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