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Court bars Palestinian kin from Israeli citizenship.

Ken Ellingwood OCCUPIED JERUSALEM--Israel's Supreme Court on Sunday upheld a controversial law that prevents Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip from gaining legal residency in order to join spouses and children who are Israeli citizens. In an unusually close 6-5 decision, justices rejected the petitioners' argument that the measure is illegal by blocking family unification on the basis of ethnic or national origin. The measure, which bars most Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip from legal residency or citizenship in Israel, was imposed by the government in 2002 at the height of the Palestinian uprising, or intifada. A year later, it was passed into law on a temporary basis by the Israeli parliament, or Knesset, and has been extended by lawmakers since. The measure is set to be considered again at the end of June. In the court case, the government said restricting the entry of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip is part of a broader effort to prevent attacks on Israelis by Palestinian activists. Israeli officials say Israeli identification documents obtained through family unification have been used to help carry out a number of suicide bombings. In 26 of 148 suicide attacks in Israel during the past five years, officials said, Israeli IDs obtained through family unification have been employed in some way, such as by a person driving the bomber to the scene. "It is a staggering 18 percent of suicide bombings that could not have otherwise been carried out, and this is the law's importance," said Yochie Gnessin, the government lawyer representing the state attorney's office. As a result of the law, married couples have been kept apart or, in cases where the Palestinian spouse has entered Israel illegally, live in fear of deportation, according to Yoav Loeff, spokesman for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, one of the groups that challenged the law. Several Supreme Court justices criticized the measure as overreaching, but the majority ruled that Israel's overall security needs outweighed the harm to families seeking to be unified. Arab politicians and rights groups in Israel said the decision was a sign of Israel's discriminatory approach toward its Arab citizens, who make up about one-fifth of the Israeli population of 7 million. Critics said the law affects perhaps thousands of Arab citizens of Israel by blocking their Palestinian spouses who live in the West Bank or Gaza Strip from gaining residency or citizenship in Israel. "It's a bad ruling for human rights in Israel. The court did not give remedy to the victims of the racist law that deprives fundamental rights from individuals based on their ethnicity," said Orna Kohn, a lawyer for Adalah, a group that advocates on behalf of Israeli Arabs. The Knesset amended the measure last year to allow temporary stays for Palestinian men who are at least 35 years old and women 25 or older. But the law's opponents say other provisions left authorities with great leeway to deny applications on security grounds. Critics say the law serves to hold down the growth of the Arab population within Israel. Israeli Arabs, who share backgrounds and social or clan ties with their counterparts in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, make up nearly all of the Israeli applicants seeking legal status for Palestinian spouses. "The real issue, of course, is demography," Kohn said. Population makeup is a volatile issue here. Israeli leaders cited the need to maintain a Jewish majority as a reason for last year's pullout from the Gaza Strip and small part of the West Bank. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has proposed removing Jewish settlers from mostly Palestinian areas of the West Bank and tightening Israel's hold on settlement blocs closer to Israel, saying it is a way to ensure its long-term viability as a Jewish state. LATWP News ServiceCourt bars Palestinian kin from Israeli citizenship

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Publication:The Star (Amman, Jordan)
Date:May 17, 2006
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