- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 14, 2006

TEL AVIV — Israel’s Supreme Court yesterday narrowly upheld an immigration law that bans Palestinians married to Israelis from living with their spouses and children inside the Jewish state.

The 6-5 decision leaves in place a three-year-old citizenship law designed to prevent West Bank Palestinians from obtaining Israeli residency for fear they would exploit the freedom of movement to assist terrorists.

Critics have called the law one of the most discriminatory in Israel’s legal code because it sets different standards for Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel.

Writing for the majority, Deputy Supreme Court President Mishael Cheshin said the “state of war” with the Palestinian Authority justifies the entry ban on “hostile individuals to the country’s security.”

The legislation, which has been criticized by international human rights groups such as Amnesty International, has forced apart dozens of families and is likely to split more.

Supreme Court President Aharon Barak’s minority opinion said the law focused exclusively on Israeli Arabs, “thus hurting their right to equality.”

Even some justices who upheld the law joined in criticizing its fairness, potentially undermining its chances of being extended when it comes up for review in a few months.

“We will continue to fight this,” said Marwan Dalal, a lawyer with the civil rights group Adalah, which brought the appeal to the Supreme Court. “There are many doubts about it among the Israeli public.”

The legislation was passed at the height of the Palestinian uprising in 2003 in response to charges that suicide bombers had received critical support from Arab citizens of Israel.

Others say the most important effect of the law is to prevent an influx of West Bank Palestinians who would dilute Israel’s 80 percent Jewish majority.

“We need to protect Israel as the state of the Jewish people,” said Immigration Minister Ze’ev Boim, a former deputy defense minister. “The number of Palestinians who gained entry to Israel because of marriage was intolerable.”

Many Israeli Palestinians in the West Bank now must worry that their husbands or wives will be deported.

“Practically, we can’t live together,” said Murad a-Sana, a lawyer who petitioned the Supreme Court over the law. “My wife will have to return to Bethlehem; I will live alone. I don’t know what to do. It’s intolerable.”

Justice Minister Haim Ramon said he would lead an effort to draft new legislation that would lay the foundations for a citizenship law that doesn’t discriminate between Jewish and Arab citizens.

Commentators said that only twice in the court’s history had the Supreme Court rendered a 6-5 decision. The citizenship-law debate has been watched closely because it exposes the tension between Israel’s aspiration to be a Jewish and democratic state.

“This decision empties the meaning of constitutional protection in Israel. If such a racist law which deprives individuals of their basic rights on the basis of ethnicity [can exist], then what constitutional protection do we have here?” asked Orna Cohen, an attorney for Adalah who petitioned the court.

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