Like a thief in the night, a Supreme Court decision breaks into thousands of Palestinian households in Israel and snatches the right to family life.
This week, the court ruled to reject a petition by Palestinian families and human rights organizations to annul a 2003 law that prohibits Palestinian spouses of Israeli citizens from enjoying the right to family life in Israel.
The law means families with Palestinian spouses cannot enjoy the same citizenship and may no longer be able to live together in Israel.
When I read the news, it immediately made me think of my friends who had hopes that the petition would achieve something and that they could live together with their families.
I called my feisty lawyer friend Ehab– an Israeli citizen married to a Palestinian woman from the West Bank – to see how he took the news. I was sure he was going to be devastated. His choked-up voice confirmed my expectations.
“We actually had hope,” he said.
“Things have changed since 2003 and we truly thought that the petition will be accepted. It is a very hard moment for all the families.”
When I asked him about his wife, Bayan, the subject was clearly too raw for him to talk about.
Ehab and Bayan, married four years ago. One year later they had Noor. Bayan is from the West Bank and is prohibited from entering Israel. According to the Israeli law that the court ruled to preserve, Ehab cannot pass his citizenship to her, and she can only enter Israel to be with him if the Ministry of Interior grants her a special temporary permit.
The first time the family lived together in the same home was last year when they stayed in the U.S while Ehab was doing his graduate degree. When they returned to Israel, Bayan was able to obtain the permit to enter Israel and they were able to live in the same house in Ehab’s village.
I remember when I congratulated Ehab for receiving the permit he told me, “There is nothing to congratulate me about, the permit is to enter Israel, not to live in Israel.”
He was of course correct. There is a fundamental difference between being able to live with your family and being allowed only to visit them. A permit is not to be celebrated.
It is a reminder of the discrimination Palestinians in Israel and occupied territories face. I was reminded of that when I spoke to Shayma and Ahmad that day.
Shayma and Ahmad were married four years ago. They now have two young daughters and live near the Israeli city of Ashkelon, where Ahmad is a gynaecologist at the local hospital.
Shayma is from Bethlehem in the West Bank. She was granted a permit to be with Ahmad only two years ago. The temporary permit only allows her to enter Israel, but does not grant her any rights or access to the services that citizens or residence residents enjoy, including health and social services.
“As a doctor,”Ahmad says, “it pains me that my wife cannot receive the services that I give to people. It pains me that she cannot enjoy the same health services I enjoy.”
It is a form of discrimination that cuts deep and causes great pain to the families who now struggle only just to see each other.
“We have to go separate ways when we pass checkpoints,.” Shayma says.
“I leave the car to get security checked, while Ahmad waits in the car with the children. These experiences are very disturbing for the children. When I leave the car they start crying.”
The family also go separate ways if they want to travel out of the country. While Ahmad can travel through the airport with the children, Shayma cannot. She has to go through Jordan, and can never take her children with her if her husband is present.
Shayma’s permit expires on 15 January. With the new court decision, the family is currently living in fear that the Israeli authorities will not renew her permit and that they will no longer be able to live together.
More than100,000 families are currently living with this same fear.
Discrimination in Israel is becoming increasingly formalized and this should not be allowed to continue.
The law must be renewed every six months and the current expiry date falls at the end of January. Amnesty International has previously called on Israel to repeal the law and ensure that that it is not renewed, . Those who believe in human rights and equality in Israel must make sure that this happens.