The Knesset plenum on Monday extended by a year an emergency provision that restricts the ability of residents of Iran, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Libya, Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, the West Bank and Gaza Strip to automatically gain legal status in Israel under the Family Reunification Law.
The Family Reunification Law grants automatic legal status to foreign nationals who marry Israeli citizens. The provision to the law, the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law, was first enacted in 2003 at the height of the Second Intifada. While the Supreme Court banned the provision from being permanently added, the Knesset has voted to extend the temporary act as an emergency measure every year since 2004.
Sixty-five MKs voted in favor of extending the provision until June 20, 2017, while 14 opposed.
”In the war against terror there is no one switch that stops all the attacks; there are a number of switches, and one of them is the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law, which was enacted in 2003 during the Second Intifada, when hundreds of Israelis were murdered and thousands more were injured in terror attacks,” said MK Avi Dichter (Likud), chairman of the joint committee of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and the Internal Affairs Committee, which discussed the various aspects of the provision.
”One way of dealing with this is self-flagellation, which has become popular as of late,” Dichter continued. ”There are those who say we treat the Arabs as an inferior race and compare us to that Germany. A mayor became a star on Al-Jazeera when he said the terror attack in Tel Aviv was the result of the occupation. A `we apologize for winning` attitude has been created here. The other way is to understand that the barrel of terror has a bottom. There are ways to fight terror, and this law is one of them.”
Ahead of this year’s vote to extend the act, the joint committee heard testimony from experts and security officials on the effects of the provision.
A representative of the Shin Bet internal security service said those seeking reunification with family members in Israel pose a security risk due to the possibility that they will be used to carry out terror attacks or engage in espionage. According to the Shin Bet, 104 citizens or legal residents who had been brought into Israel under the Family Reunification Law had committed acts of terrorism from 2001 to 2016. Of those 104, 17 had married Israeli citizens, while 87 were relatives of those who had married Israelis.
The Shin Bet official also noted that residents brought into Israel under the Family Reunification Law were playing an increasing role in terrorism. He noted that 73% of terrorists with Israeli citizenship who had committed acts of terror against Israelis since the beginning of the terror wave last September were brought in as part of family reunifications.
Of the 104 terrorists who entered Israel in this manner, 30 had committed terror attacks over the past nine months. He also noted they were responsible for 13% of all terror attacks in the recent terror wave.
During Monday`s plenary debate, MK Osama Sa`adi (Joint List) called the law ”the most racist in the Israeli book of laws,” and said the statistics presented to the joint committee were misleading because residents of east Jerusalem who took part in terror attacks over the past year have nothing to do with family reunification. ”In practice, barely one out of every 1,000 people who carried out terror attacks since 2003 are living here by virtue of family reunification,” he told the plenum.
MK Zehava Galon (Meretz) echoed Sa`adi`s sentiments and said ”over the years there have been interior ministers who explained that this law is necessary because there is a demographic threat; because the Arab residents of Israel bring their wives in from the territories. Then it became a security threat. The truth is that there is a rightist government that hates Arabs, excludes them, and is now using the terror attacks as an excuse for this disgrace.”
MK Nachman Shai (Zionist Camp) said the provision ”can certainly be seen as something which harms democratic values such as liberty and civil rights. However, we cannot ignore the circumstances, the life in this country, the incessant wave of terror attacks and the attack that occurred just four days ago in Tel Aviv. All this reinforces the feeling that we have to have more control over who we allow into Israeli territory.”
Shai said that while the figures presented by the Shin Bet official had not convinced him, he agreed to support the extension of the provision based on Dichter`s promise that the joint committee would discuss the matter further within the next six months ”in order to determine whether or not the provision is still justified.”