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Israeli court upholds ban on Palestinian spouses

18:00 Jan 11 2012 West Jerusalem

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Israeli court upholds ban on Palestinian spouses
Published today (updated) 12/01/2012 19:04
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A Palestinian girl holds a flag and an olive branch as Israeli border police
officers stand near their vehicle at a West Bank protest.
(Reuters/Mohamad Torokman)
JERUSALEM (Reuters) -- Israel's top court has upheld a law denying citizenship to Palestinians married to Israelis, with one judge saying it helped the state to fend off national "suicide."

By a 6-to-5 vote, the Supreme Court late on Wednesday rejected petitions against the 2003 ban, which civil rights activists denounced as racist for potentially forcing Israeli citizens of Palestinian origin to emigrate if they marry Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza Strip.

Israel's former centrist government championed the ban on security grounds. However, the law has also strained ethnic ties in Israel, whose leaders have long sought to shore up a majority Jewish population.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, one of four petitioning groups, accused the court on Thursday of yielding to "the tyranny of the Knesset (parliament) majority."

Judge Asher Grunis, whose nomination as the court's next president was welcomed by conservatives, voted to keep the citizenship law, saying in the ruling that rescinding it "would mean thousands of Palestinians entering the country after marrying Israeli citizens."

"Human rights do not prescribe national suicide," he wrote.

Such language echoed arguments that any influx of Palestinians - such as refugees from the 1948 war of Israel's founding and their descendants - would spell "demographic suicide" for Israel.

In 2005, then Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said demography was among considerations behind the citizenship law.

Grunis, however, framed his remarks around concern about infiltration by Palestinian militants. Dissenting, Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch and four other justices described the freedom to marry as being at the heart of democratic principle.

"The blow, as presented, to family life must be viewed against the certain harm, given past experience, to the lives and bodies of Israelis," Grunis wrote.

The judicial review was also watched closely after now-dominant rightist politicians pursued procedural changes that would have helped them to influence selection of Supreme Court judges. On the attorney-general's advice, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blocked that legislation.

Normally Israel naturalizes the spouses of its citizens, though it sometimes offers as a stop-gap permanent residency, a similar status but without the right to vote. Many Palestinians see economic opportunity in being an Israeli citizen, as well as access to health and other state benefits.

Saswan Zaher, a petitioner said in a radio interview that the ruling showed "the country is interfering in the choosing of spouses".

Zaher is a lawyer for Adalah, a group that lobbies for the rights of Palestinians inside Israel.

Israeli law guarantees, in principle, full civil rights, including political representation, to its Palestinian citizens, who are mostly Muslim.

But rights groups say Palestinians living in Israel face discrimination in employment, education and public funding.

Around 20 percent, or 1.3 million people, of Israel's population are of Palestinian origin.

They are largely the descendants of Palestinians that managed to remain during the 1948 war, when an estimated 700,000 were expelled from or fled their homes during fighting that would see the establishment of the state of Israel.
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