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Israel Splitting Families Apart
by Am Johal
July 19, 2004

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Nabil Ayesh, one of the parents holding his baby in his arms, says that because of Israel's Citizenship Law he doesn’t have a family life.  He says he feels as if he’s only dating his wife because they are forced to live apart.  She can’t come out of the West Bank, he has to go in.

On a bright Sunday morning at the Prime Minister’s Office, about 50 people, including family members and children directly affected by the law, gathered to take part in a demonstration against Israel’s Citizenship Law organized by a number of human rights organizations including the Mossawa Center, Physicians for Human Rights, B’tselem, HaMoked, Adalah, and the Arab Human Rights Association.

Nearby, the Israeli cabinet voted on Sunday to extend the law by six months.  It will now go to the Knesset later in the week for final approval.

The temporary law, harshly criticized by an Amnesty International Report last week, was originally supposed to be extended by a year.  Attorney General Menachem Mazuz brought forward a proposal to deal with the pressure the government was facing from the law both internationally and within Israel.

The new law will allow those who are considered a low security risk to be considered for citizenship based on tightened regulations.

This is still unacceptable to human rights organizations who consider the law to be racist because it singles out applications for differential treatment based on ethnicity.  The law was originally initiated by the Shin Bet security service.  Over 20,000 people are affected by the legislation.

The liberal daily Ha’aretz blasted the government for proceeding with the legislation this week in a harsh editorial. 

There are too many stories of hardship.  Manel Hashlomin has been trying to get a permit for her two children but it has been difficult for her to leave Bethlehem since the second intifada began.  For Dr. Ibrahim Makkawi, a former US resident and Israeli citizen, the law is unjust and he cannot accept it.  He was originally going to get married last year to his wife Rajaa Barghouthi, a student at Birzeit University in Ramallah.  They postponed the wedding because of the law, but ended up getting married last month.

For the Al Quds University lecturer in Education and Psychology, the fact that he couldn’t have a traditional wedding where his wife’s family could come to Beer Sheva was just another part of the reality of living under this law.

The new regulations add to the hardships imposed by the Separation Barrier.

Others are faced with losing their national insurance, health care and child benefits.   They also face the reality of dealing with checkpoints in order to have some semblance of a family life. So today, they are at the Prime Minister’s Office bolstered by statements reflecting human rights concerns with the law from the United Nations, the European Union, the support of 84 Members of the British Parliament and a citation in the US State Department’s Human Rights Report. 

But in today’s Israel, security and demographic concerns of the state seem to trump human rights every time.  So in the mean time, they will do what they can to keep their families together.  They will watch the Knesset debate later in the week and will be ready to be back here.

Am Johal is a Canadian freelance writer living in Israel. Email:

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