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Israel's Use of Marriage Legislation as a Tool of Apartheid

On 10 March 2022, the Israeli Knesset - the legislative body of Israel - passed the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Bill into law. This law, a temporary order that has been annually renewed since it was first passed in 2003, failed to receive the necessary votes for its renewal in July 2021. The previous vote failed due to the right-wing party, Likud, removing support to show opposition to the newly-formed coalition government despite the law aligning with their policies. The most recent vote was held before a holiday recess and received a final vote of 45-15 which crossed party lines. Dozens of members of the Knesset did not cast a vote on the legislation.

This law places restrictions on residency and naturalisation for individuals from “hostile countries”. In effect, this means that Palestinians from the occupied West Bank or Gaza Strip who marry Israeli citizens will not have the right to permanent residency in Israel or to gain citizenship. This will force intercultural families to either emigrate or live apart. Palestinian spouses of Israeli citizens will be allowed to obtain temporary two-year residency permits although they are allowed to be revoked at any point for security reasons.

Currently, around 12,700 Palestinians married to Arab-Israelis live in the country with temporary residence permits requiring constant renewal. These Palestinians struggle to obtain other documentation such as driving licenses and face deportation if their Israeli spouse dies even if they have an Israeli child.

The March 2022 edition of the law, in contrast to previous versions, has added a "Purpose of the Law" section. In it, it is explained that the law takes

“into consideration the fact that Israel is a Jewish and democratic state and in a manner that will ensure [the] safeguarding of vital interests for the state's national security”.

Proponents of the law explain it is necessary for the security of the country and to ensure terrorists are not allowed to reside in Israel. Opponents of the legislation argue that it furthers the discrimination faced by Palestinians and continues Israel’s apartheid-like regime. Amnesty International, for example, calls for Israel to be held accountable for its “apartheid against Palestinians”.

Many of these opponents have claimed they will challenge the law in the Israeli Supreme Court. In 2012, however, the Supreme Court upheld the law in a 6-5 decision. Since 2012, more Judges such as Yael Willnerand British-born David Mintz have been appointed by right-wing Ministers who are likely to again uphold the law.

Beyond the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law, the Israeli government has, since its inception, used legislation and the legal landscape to further its apartheid rule. When the country was established, it maintained the legal system of the Ottoman Empire known as the millet system. This system creates separate courts for different ethno-religious communities. These distinct courts have the exclusive authority to preside over marriage. As these courts are controlled by religious leaders who would not preside over interfaith marriages, they are effectively banned in Israel.

Yüksel Sezgin explains that this system was maintained because Israeli leaders had a genuine interest in who married whom because

“the safety and purity of this link between the Jewish people and their faith could only be ensured by the preservation of rabbinical courts' monopoly over marital affairs of all Israeli Jews”.

Controlling who marries who means that it is more probable that Israelis will stay within their ethno-religious communities and raise their children in them.

Whilst there has been some renewed hope for change in Israeli policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict such as the recent failure to renew applying Israeli law to Jewish settlers, the renewal of the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law is not surprising. As this article has laid out, interfaith and intercultural marriage have strategically been barred through legislation since Israel’s creation in 1948.


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