Monday, January 16, 2012

The citizenship law and demographics

Nadav Shragai

Palestinians have taken advantage of Israeli citizenship laws to realize "the right of return.”

For almost 40 years, Palestinians have taken advantage of the Israeli Citizenship Law, using a path paved for them by the government to realize their "right of return," to "reunite" with fellow Arabs inside Israel and to become Israeli citizens. Since Israel's establishment, more than 350,000 Palestinian Arabs have utilized the law to become Israelis.

It was the Bedouin who became experts at invoking the citizenship law, some of them "uniting" with more than one wife. Yet, according to the law, applicable to Bedouin and all other Israelis, a man is allowed to be married to only one woman. Some Bedouin have sent their pregnant second or subsequent wives to hospitals to give birth using identity cards belonging to their first, legal Israeli wives.The National Insurance Institute of Israel statistics center became aware of the phenomenon when it began to notice that a single Bedouin woman might have had three, four or even five births attributed to her in a single year. Such a thing is of course unfathomable. Many Bedouin apparently took this course in an effort to secure additional child stipends from the National Insurance Institute.

In almost all cases, the unification took place on the Israeli side and not the Palestinian side, as it made more financial sense to unite in Israel. It was a year ago that Israel Hayom's weekend political supplement exposed this ongoing phenomenon.

There have also been instances in which "united" individuals took advantage of their newly granted Israeliness to harm us and our security. The most prominent case is that involving Shadi Tobassi, a suicide bomber who killed 15 Israelis during the attack on the Matza restaurant in Haifa nine years ago.

After that attack, an amendment was made to the Citizenship Law allowing the state to block this easy road to citizenship, permitting it to withhold the granting of residency or citizenship to those coming from enemy states or hostile regions.

In 2005, the High Court rejected, for the first time, the petition but forth by the Adalah organization (the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel) which called for the amendment to be repealed.

Judge Mishael Cheshin voiced his objection to the petition, siding with the majority. Court President Justice Aharon Barak was part of the minority group that agreed with the petition.

In order to explain his ruling, Cheshin took the court on a virtual trip to visit Thomas More, the English philosopher who coined the term "utopia." Cheshin imagined himself and Barak arriving at an island far out at sea and being greeted by a venerable More. "What is this place?" the judges asked. "We are in the state of Utopia," answered More. "Is the legal system of the state of Utopia similar to that in Israel?" the judges asked.

More smiled and replied, "I am sorry, but there are profound differences between the two legal systems and will be a long time before Israel is able to reach the level of Utopia. You are fighting for your lives, for the existence of your state, for the ability of the Jewish people to manage a communal and national life, a condition that occurs naturally in all other nations. The laws of Utopia in your situation ... are not well-suited for you ... take care of yourselves ... and stay alive."

Cheshin's successors may have been far less poetic, but fortunately they adopted his position.

Yet now, as happened six years ago, the High Court continues to hide behind the discourse concerning human rights and security. It does so at a time when the real discourse, though it may not be politically correct, is a national-demographic discourse.

The question of whether a woman from Sakhnin and a man from Nablus who marry will be permitted to live together in Israel is an important one to ask -- and especially so if the man is a potential terrorist. But it is no less critical to ask how many dispersed Palestinians will use the citizenship path to realize "the right of return" through the back door.

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