Israel’s parliament has passed a law denying naturalisation to Palestinians from the occupied West Bank or Gaza married to Israeli citizens, forcing thousands of Palestinian families to either emigrate or live apart.
The so-called citizenship law passed on Thursday just before the Knesset disbanded for a holiday recess by a 45-15 majority vote that crossed coalition-opposition lines.
It replaced a similar temporary order that first passed during the height of a Palestinian uprising in 2003 and was renewed annually until it expired last July, when the Knesset failed to secure a simple majority needed to extend it.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party allied with right-wing factions in the opposition to pass the legislation above protests of more liberal parties inside and outside government.
“The combination of forces between the coalition and the opposition led to an important result for the security of the state and its fortification as a Jewish state,” said interior minister Ayelet Shaked, a member of Bennett’s party.
Dozens of lawmakers in the 120-seat chamber did not cast votes on the highly divisive legislation.
Under the terms of the citizenship law, which will be valid for one year, Palestinian spouses of Israelis can obtain temporary, two-year residence permits, although they can be revoked on security grounds.
Proponents say the law helps ensure Israel’s security and maintains its “Jewish character”.
‘State of Israel is Jewish’
Some Knesset members said it was intended to prevent a gradual right of return for Palestinian refugees driven from their homes or who fled during the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation – all while Israel prepares to take in thousands of Ukrainian refugees.
“The State of Israel is Jewish and so it will remain,” said Simcha Rothman of the far-right Religious Zionist Party, a member of the opposition who brought the law forward with Shaked.
“Today, God willing, Israel’s defensive shield will be significantly strengthened,” he told the Knesset hours before the vote.
Bezalel Smotrich of the Religious Zionist bloc said the law was “a correct and good outline”.
Others blasted the bill. Lawmaker Gaby Lasky of the dovish Meretz party called the law “a black spot on the book of laws in Israel” and wrote on Twitter that, “Meretz as a whole voted against racism.”
Mansour Abbas, the head of the United Arab List (Raam) party, also opposed the legislation.
Critics say the law discriminates against Israel’s 21 percent Palestinian minority – who are Palestinian by heritage and Israeli by citizenship – by barring them from extending citizenship and permanent residency rights to Palestinian spouses.
“It comes off as more xenophobic or racist [than other laws] because it’s not only giving extra rights and privileges to Jewish people, but also preventing certain basic rights only from the Arab population,” said Reut Shaer, a lawyer with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.
The law also bars the unification of Israeli citizens or residents and spouses from “enemy states” such as Lebanon, Syria and Iran.
But it mostly affects Palestinian women and children, said Shaer. It is a form of “collective punishment”, she added, because it infringes on the rights of an entire population based on the assumption they are all prone to “terrorism”.
Several rights groups announced they will challenge the law in Israel’s Supreme Court.
“The justices will now have to decide whether, when faced with the Law’s explicit language, they will continue to allow this racist Law to be protected under the eternal pretext of temporality,” the Adalah advocacy group said in a statement.
Israel had captured East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza by the 1967 Middle East war. It applies different sets of rules for Jews and Palestinians in the parts it now illegally occupies.