The High Court of Justice has ordered that the Israeli government reconsider its policy of barring children born abroad to an Israeli parent from entering Israel during the pandemic unless their parents had registered them in the Israeli population registry.
In response, the Interior Ministry said that the rules were recently amended to permit the unregistered children of Israelis born abroad to visit Israel up until the end of the year, as long as the parents file a request with an Israeli embassy abroad and commit to registering their children within 60 days of their return to their home abroad.
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Israeli law requires all Israeli citizens to register their children – defined as under the age of 18 – in the population registry. Israelis living abroad who have failed to register their children discovered that they weren’t able to enter Israel with the children, who are deemed foreign nationals. For certain periods during the COVID-19 pandemic, most foreign nationals were barred from entering the country.
The petitioners in the case said the new policy, which calls for registration following the visit to Israel, is insufficient because it does not take into account situations where this is not possible, such as one parent’s refusal to pursue the process. The three-justice panel acknowledged the issue and ordered the interior and foreign ministries to reexamine the policy and inform the court of their response by November 1.
Anyone who is listed in the population registry has all of the obligations of Israeli citizens, including mandatory military service. Once they turn 18, anyone who is registered is also entitled to vote and to run for office in Israel.
The case before the court was filed in August by roughly 35 families whose children were never registered and were not allowed to enter the country. The petitioners had hoped that the case would be quickly decided and that their children and grandchildren living abroad would be permitted to visit Israel this past summer. The petitioners' lawyers also drew the court’s attention to a Facebook group created on the issue as evidence of the large number of people contenting with the same issue.
The petitioners’ lawyers, Batya Sachs and Gilad Itzhak Bar-Tal, expressed satisfaction with the court’s decision to order that the government reexamine the policy. “It’s inconceivable that citizens of the State of Israel would be deprived of entering [the country] because they have not been properly registered with the Interior Ministry while foreign nationals without any link to Israel come in for various purposes,” they said.
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“There is genuine distress here on the part of people who are saying, ‘We’re Israelis, really Israelis, and can’t enter with our son,” Justice Isaac Amit said at last week’s hearing on the case. The petitioners, he said, have a feeling that the government is exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to compel them to register their children born overseas.
Some of them, he added, are claiming that they had previously been visiting the country for years with their children without a problem, and most of them were unaware of the registration obligation prior to the pandemic. Others, Amit said, apparently did not wish to register their children because of the obligation to do military service.
Another justice on the panel, Alex Stein, disagreed with Amit, and said he saw no reason for the court to interfere with the government’s policy, telling the petitioners that if they wish to obtain the right to have their children visit, they should follow procedure.
One of the petitioners is Aliza Ziegler, whose son is married to a woman who is not Israeli. Ziegler told the court she had not seen her grandson for three years because he is not registered. When asked by Justice Amit why he was not registered, she said that registering the grandson, who is now 13, requires the parents to provide proof of paternity, which dissuaded them from pursuing the process.