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Taking direct action against Israel’s racist marriage law

Patrick O. Strickland

23mrs_kh_00_2.jpg

A Palestinian woman plays a bride without a groom in a 14 April 2013 protest against Israeli laws that prevent the reunification of families split between the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip and present-day Israel.
(Sliman Khader / APA images)


December 23, 2013

Activists have launched a new campaign to challenge Israeli laws which prevent many Palestinians from marrying each other.

"We were all friends through different forums, and we decided to do something to tackle this racism," Najwan Berekdar, a founding member of the campaign, told The Electronic Intifada.

Launched in March this year, the campaign — which the activists are calling Love in a Time of Apartheid — focuses on Israel’s Citizenship and Entry Law, a temporary order that prevents the reunification of Palestinian families based on the type of identification card they carry.

Love in a Time of Apartheid consists of some thirty members who work on a voluntary basis.

The group undertakes direct action protests and raises awareness about the Citizenship and Entry Law and its effects on Palestinians both at home and abroad.

Berekdar said the law is another Israeli tactic to impose divisions among the Palestinian people by deciding the terms on which they can marry or build a family. "It’s obvious that this is used to target Palestinians because we are a 'demographic threat’ to Israel. It’s part of the broader policy of pushing Palestinians out," Berekdar said.

"Our campaign was launched as a rejection of this racist law," Berekdar added. The campaigners decided to tackle the Citizenship and Entry Law because "we are all touched by it. We are all Palestinians affected by the same occupation and the same racist system."

The Citizenship and Entry Law was first passed by Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, in 2003. Due to the opposition of Israel’s high court, it was passed as a temporary order. Nonetheless, it has been renewed by the Knesset every April for the last decade.

Article 2 of the order states that for as long as it is in place, "the minister of the interior shall not grant the inhabitant of an area [the West Bank or the Gaza Strip] citizenship on the basis of the citizenship law, and shall not give him a license to reside in Israel." The authorities have used it to deny Palestinians the right to live in occupied East Jerusalem.

"Enemy states"

In addition to targeting those granted identification documents by the Palestinian Authority, the order prevents family reunification for Israeli citizens whose spouses carry nationality from "enemy states" — Lebanon, Syria, Iran and Iraq, and other places that the military considers "a threat" to Israel’s security.

Israel argues that the law serves to prevent Palestinian "terrorism" operations. However, Adalah, an organization that campaigns for the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel, has noted that out of thousands of people affected by the law, Israel has been only able to point to a tiny number of individuals suspected of indirect involvement in acts of violence.

"We have to maintain the state’s democratic nature, but also its Jewish nature," Zeev Boim, then Israel’s immigration minister said in 2006. "The extent of entry of in-laws to Israeli territory is intolerable" ("Arab spouses face Israeli legal purge," The Scotsman, 14 May 2006).

Fragmentation

In 2012, Israel’s high court rejected a petition against the Citizenship and Entry Law that was presented by Adalah. The judges ruled that "the right to a family life does not necessarily have to be realized within the borders of Israel" ("High court rejects petition against citizenship law," The Jerusalem Post, 11 January 2012).

Israeli chief justice Asher Grunis argued that allowing Palestinian families to reunite inside Israel amounted to "national suicide."

The order threatens to "eventually strengthen Israel’s fragmentation of the Palestinians … it not only divides us as families and couples but as Palestinians, as a unified, occupied people," said Berekdar.

In effect, the law means that married Palestinian couples who hold different identification cards — one with a Palestinian Authority ID card and the other with an Israeli-issued Jerusalem residency card or Israeli citizenship — are denied family reunification for themselves or their children.

In practice, however, foreign citizens of Palestinian descent are not granted residency permits upon marrying Jerusalem residents or Palestinian citizens of Israel, either.

These restrictions are reserved solely for Palestinians. "If you are Jewish from anywhere in the world, you can move to Israel and get nationality … and you can marry anyone and have them move to Israel and get the [Israeli] passport," Berekdar explained.

In tune with Israel’s policy of treating the Gaza Strip and the West Bank as different entities, the law also allows "Israel to take away the citizenship of Palestinian citizens [of Israel] if they marry a Gazan and move to the Gaza Strip," Berekdar added.

Collective punishment

Rima Awwad of the Jerusalemites Campaign dismissed the idea that the order has any security basis, noting that it is a "clear example of collective punishment."

Palestinian residents of Jerusalem carry a special Israeli-issued identity card and are considered stateless under international law. Awwad said that this order is only the latest development in the "mounting evidence that the Citizenship and Entry Law is used to satisfy Israel’s demographic aims, not quell its security concerns," adding that it punishes Palestinian Jerusalemites asymmetrically.

"The ramifications of this measure run even deeper for Palestinian Jerusalemites, who come under threat of having their permanent residency status revoked if they leave the immediate area, including to the West Bank or Gaza. For those in possession of a Jerusalem ID, then, the law works not only to push them and their families out, but also prevents them from being able to return to the city freely."

One of the most important components of Love in a Time of Apartheid is that its direct actions bring together Palestinian citizens of Israel, holders of Israeli-issued Jerusalem identity cards, and those with citizenship documents issued by the Palestinian Authority.

The campaign has organized two direct action protests that received significant media coverage.

In March, dozens of Palestinians assembled for a large protest at Hizma checkpoint between Jerusalem and the West Bank. Demonstrators staged a mock wedding to demonstrate Israel’s divisive policies.

Dressed as bride and a groom, two participants attempted to cross the checkpoint in order to reach each other. "The occupation came between them — the soldiers actually stopped the wedding from happening and used their violent ways of suppressing the demonstration," said Berekdar. Israeli soldiers fired sound grenades and smoke bombs on the wedding, beating and arresting several protesters.

"The idea of this wedding was to visualize the reality that we live in, to show people what this law means because it has been invisible," she added.

Empty chair

On the eve of the order’s renewal in April, the campaign staged a second protest outside the Knesset. "We called this demonstration 'My Partner Belongs Next to Me,’ and we put an empty chair next to a bride," said Berekdar.

In order to reach out and raise awareness, the campaign organizers held an event at the Ramallah Cultural Palace on 18 November. The event included live music, a comedy skit, a modern dance performance, videos about the campaign’s organizing and speeches on the details of Israel’s recent wave of laws aimed at sowing division between Palestinians.

The event was also the formal launch of a petition against the order, which received more than 400 signatures the first night alone. Its purpose was to reach out to Palestinians on a local level by "gaining popular support," said Berekdar.

At the event, the campaign also announced the signatures of more than 100 local nongovernmental organizations that declared their endorsement for the Love in a Time of Apartheid campaign, as well as the handful of international figures who have joined the advisory board, including the rock star Roger Waters, the author Alice Walker and the philosopher Judith Butler.

Calls to repeal

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Inequality and Discrimination called on Israel to "reconsider its policy with a view to facilitating family reunification on a non-discriminatory basis" as far back as 2003, shortly after the Citizenship and Entry Law was introduced ("UN blasts Israeli marriage law," BBC, 15 August 2003).

The order has also been roundly denounced by Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights organizations. In January 2012, Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights group, filed a petition calling for the court to reconsider its constitutionality.

Human Rights Watch called on Israel to annul the law that same month.

Several other international human rights groups have also criticized the order and called for its repeal. They include Amnesty International, the International Commission of Jurists and the International Federation for Human Rights.

Despite the chorus of condemnation, there has been no international action against this order or dozens of similarly racist laws. Against this backdrop of Israeli impunity, participants of the Love in a Time of Apartheid and similar campaigns aim to take matters into their own hands.

"We want to tell people to be aware of this law and to not let it get to them," explained Berekdar. "We want people to continue loving each other as Palestinian families based on their feelings and their connections, not the color of their ID card."

Patrick O. Strickland is an independent journalist and frequent contributor at The Electronic Intifada. His writing can be found at www.patrickostrickland.com. Follow him on Twitter @P_Strickland_.



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