Marriage Law Divides Israeli Arab Families ; under New Legislation, Arabs from the Occupied Territories May No Longer Join Their Spouses in Israel

Article excerpt

Ibrahim Hawari says he is being forced by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government to make an impossible choice: his family or his home.

Mr. Hawari, deputy mayor of the northern municipality of Ma'alot- Tarshiha, is one of thousands of Israel's Arab citizens who see themselves as victims of a law passed last week blocking their spouses from the occupied territories from gaining citizenship or residency in Israel.

"This is a law that separates husband and wife, and wife and children. It is destroying a family that lives peacefully and believes in coexistence," he says.

Hawari has been married since 1998 and has two daughters. He fears that his pregnant wife, Hana, from the West Bank city of Nablus, may be expelled.

Interior Minister Avraham Poraz says the ban is an essential security measure, made necessary by a small number of spouses from the occupied territories, and their offspring, who have misused citizenship to join terrorist attacks.

There are no current plans for mass expulsions, according to Mr. Poraz. But the Association for Civil Rightsin Israel, an independent human rights group, says the law enables the "breaking apart" of thousands of families.

The Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law is a defining act for Israel. To liberal Israelis, it marks a step further away from a society with humane values where all citizens are equal. To Sharon's government, it means security is given top priority during a war on terrorism.

Arab legislators say the law's origins predate the suicide bombing cited as justification for the legislation, and reflect an effort to preserve a clear Jewish majority over Arabs.

"This has nothing to do with security. The idea is to reduce the number of Arabs in Israel," Azmi Bishara, an Arab legislator, said during a Knesset debate.

The law overturns Israel's practice of family reunification, underway since the West Bank and Gaza Strip were occupied during the 1967 war between Israel and neighboring Arab states.

According to Yuri Stern, head of the Knesset's Interior Committee, an estimated 130,000 Palestinians from those territories have become citizens or residents in the last decade. The wait was protracted - four years or longer - but most applications were approved. The new law firms up a freeze instituted last year after a devastating suicide bombing in Haifa by the son of a West Bank father and a mother who is an Israeli citizen.

The Palestinian citizens of Israel, known officially as Israeli Arabs, constitute nearly a fifth of the country's population. They vote and have the same individual rights as Jewish Israelis, but lack the collective rights accorded Jews, and face discrimination in many areas.

Hawari's wife came to live with him after their wedding. He put in an application for "family reunification," and the process seemed to be moving along - until the Haifa bombing, when the government froze all applications. …