Since 1967, Israeli citizens and residents married to residents of the Occupied Territories were able to apply to the Ministry of the Interior to obtain a legal status in Israel for their spouse. In most cases, following a long examination and period of waiting, the Ministry granted the status, enabling the couple to live together in Israel. In May 2002, the government froze the handling of applications for family unification filed by residents of the Occupied Territories.
On 31 July 2003, the government enshrined that decision in statute - the Nationality and Entry into Israel (Temporary Order) Law, 5763 - 2003. The statute prohibits Israelis married to residents of the Occupied Territories, or who marry them following implementation of the law, to live with their spouse in Israel. The statute also harms the children of residents of East Jerusalem who were born in the Occupied Territories, and forbids the ministry to register them as residents of Israel. The statute, which was valid for one year, empowered the government to extend it with Knesset approval.
On 18 July 2004, the statute was extended until 5 February 2005.
The statute severely impairs the family life of tens of thousands of persons, citizens and residents of Israel and residents of the Occupied Territories alike. Israelis who married residents of the Occupied Territories will not be able to live with their spouse. Couples choosing to violate the law and live together in Israel (including East Jerusalem) will find it impossible to live normal lives and will be in constant fear of being caught. If a couple decides to live in the Occupied Territories, the Israeli spouse will be considered a lawbreaker, unless he or she received a special permit, because military commanders have forbidden Israelis to enter Area A in the West Bank and its equivalent area in the Gaza Strip. Couples who married before the statute was enacted, in cases in which the spouse from the Occupied Territories has not yet received a permanent status in Israel, are allowed to live together only if the non-resident spouse is given a temporary permit, which can be obtained by applying to the Civil Administration. Permits are hard to obtain, and Israel cancels them at frequent intervals.
The state argues that the law is needed for security reasons, contending that the entry of residents of the Occupied Territories - as such - endangers Israeli citizens. This argument is baseless and was only recently raised to cover-up the real reason: Israel is seeking to prevent the further increase of the Arab population in Israel in order to preserve the Jewish character of the state. The state's attempt to avoid relying on demographics as the stated reason for the law is a result of its understanding that such a reason is racist and illegal, and would be nullified upon judicial review.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Adalah, Knesset members, and couples who would be harmed by the statute petitioned the High Court of Justice to declare the statute void. The High Court joined the petitions and heard them in an expanded panel of thirteen justices. In its latest statement to the High Court, the State Attorney's Office informed the High Court that:
The Ministry of the Interior, in coordination with the Ministry of Justice, will prepare as soon as possible an amendment to the statute that expands the exceptions to applicability of the statute to additional groups that comprise a lesser security threat. The amendment will be submitted to the Knesset at the end of the Knesset's recess. The said amendment will be brought before the ministerial committee to examine suggestions regarding the Population Administration, and will be presented to the government for approval.
Based on this statement, and taking into account that the government extended the validity of the law for only half the period that the Knesset permitted, the High Court decided, in December 2004, to postpone judgment until after the Knesset decides the fate of the statute.
B'Tselem urges the Israeli government to change its policy and to treat all its citizens and residents equally. B'Tselem also urges the Knesset to deny granting approval for extension of the law. The Ministry of the Interior should immediately renew the handling of requests for family unification and child registration, and consider each request in an efficient manner based on its merits, while recognizing the rights of Israeli residents and citizens to marry according to their heart's desire and to live with their spouse and children in Israel, if they so wish.