The deputy president of the Tel Aviv District Court, Esther Covo, handed down an unusual and precedent-setting verdict last week. Covo ordered the Interior Ministry to grant permanent resident's status to an immigrant from Ethiopia, whose citizenship had been revoked.
The verdict, rendered by the court for administrative affairs, is significant for establishing several principles. It stipulates that if a person has children who are Israeli citizens, this in itself is sufficient grounds for claiming a legal status. This is contrary to the Interior Ministry's long-standing argument that having a child does not grant the parents legal status.
Covo also criticizes the procedure by which the petitioner's citizenship was revoked, after he had been an Israeli citizen for 10 years. She orders the state to grant him a permanent resident's status, which is almost equal to citizenship.
The petitioner immigrated to Israel in 1992 and served in the army. He has a permanent partner and the two are parents of two children. In 2002, a decade after he became an Israeli citizen, the committee to revoke citizenship affiliated to the Interior Ministry decided to abolish his citizenship, claiming that he had become an immigrant on the basis of "false information." To prevent his deportation, he and his children petitioned the court for administrative affairs, through attorney Orit Schwartz.
Judge Covo writes: "It is impossible to ignore the lightness with which the decision was made in 2002 to revoke the immigrant's visa and Israeli citizenship of a person who came to Israel in 1992 and has two biological children here.
"It appears to me that this revocation...without considering another option that would allow him to remain in Israel, was a far-reaching and incorrect move, in the absence of any basis presented to me during the process of the hearing. The committee's protocol was not submitted, it was not clarified whether the petitioner knew of the intention to revoke his citizenship...Was he warned, was it made clear to him that he could petition against the decision and [was he given other information] that could ensure that the honorable committee had weighed all the relevant considerations," she wrote.
This affair sheds light on one of the most problematic and unacceptable bodies in Israel - the committee to revoke citizenship. This is a committee with the power to deprive people of their identity, of the right to live in their country and of all their civil rights here.
The decision Judge Covo ruled on had been made by the committee's former members, headed by retired Judge David Bar-Tov. The present committee, headed by attorney Zvi Inbar, formerly the Knesset's legal adviser, has made a few improvements. In a number of cases, it enabled legal representation and granted an alternative legal status in place of the revoked citizenship.
And yet, revoking a person's citizenship in such a vague informal way is intolerable. A person cannot fight against the revocation of his citizenship in court until after his citizenship has been abolished. By then, however, he will have lost the right to work in Israel, and will have difficulty paying for a lawyer.
It is difficult to comprehend how Knesset members can tolerate such an undemocratic body, and don't change the law so that the court is the body authorized to revoke citizenship. The suspicion lingers that the indifference comes from the fact that the committee deals only with non-Jews, or suspected non-Jews.
It is equally hard to understand why the state bothers to persecute a man who was naturalized 10 years ago, investing its resources in tracking him down.
The chair of the committee to examine Israel's immigration policy, law professor Amnon Rubinstein, told Haaretz once: "I strongly object to revoking citizenship. Let them check out people when they are entering Israel. If we were wrong, then we were wrong, it's not the end of the world."
Another question is, is it fair and humane to revoke the citizenship of a man who built a life and raised a family here? Even if he is an alleged felon, is it fair to punish his family?
A statute of limitations of a few years, four at the most, must be set for revoking citizenship. The population registry is already bogged down with work pressures and personnel problems. It should invest its resources in solving today's problems, not raising ghosts from the past.
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