Sohlberg Leaves Boys No Residency, Grunis Concurs

Is this what Israel can expect from the next Supreme Court?

The Supreme Court yesterday upheld an opinion by Jerusalem District Court Judge Noam Sohlberg, who is under public scrutiny as a candidate for the Supreme Court.

The ruling by Sohlberg, whose appointment to the Supreme Court is supported by the right, came in a case involving 15-year-old twins from Sur Baher, an Arab village on the edge of Jerusalem. Sohlberg's decision denied the twins permanent residency status in Israel as well as Israeli medical and social-welfare benefits.

Judge Noam Sohlberg
Daniel Bar-On

Yesterday the Supreme Court upheld Sohlberg's decision by a vote of two to one. Court President Dorit Beinisch dissented.

Justice Asher Grunis said Sohlberg's decision should not be overturned because of concerns about its wider implications. Justice Edmond Levy agreed with Grunis, who is expected to be appointed court president upon Beinisch's retirement in February.

In his 2009 decision, Sohlberg found that the twins, Mohammed and Mahmoud Abdel Hafez, were not entitled to residency rights even though their siblings and parents are considered residents of Israel. The Interior Ministry had denied the two residency based on the position that the center of the twins' lives was not in Israel.

Part of Sur Baher is in Jerusalem, so this area is recognized as part of Israel. But another piece of the village - where the twins live - is over the border in the West Bank.

Sohlberg says that since the family lives in the West Bank portion of the village, outside the state's boundaries, the twins are not entitled to Israeli residency rights.

In her dissent, Beinisch said the area that represents the center of the twins' lives should be considered, as should the family's ties to Israel. She said this question could not be resolved by simply considering the physical location of the family's home, as she said Sohlberg did.

In upholding Sohlberg's decision, Grunis wrote that the natural tendency would be to rule in the twins' favor in light of the decision's difficult consequences. But he noted that ruling in their favor would also have implications for the many people who live in the neighborhood and are in a similar situation. The ruling could not be limited to the twins' case alone, Grunis said.

Beinisch argued that Sur Baher was a single community that shares services with Jerusalem, even though it spills over into the West Bank. She said leaving some family members residency status but not the twins could harm the family. This was undesirable as a matter of principle, she wrote.