The Israeli parliament has passed a law that bars Israeli settlers from extending citizenship or even residency to Palestinian spouses from the occupied West Bank and besieged Gaza Strip, forcing thousands of Palestinian families to either emigrate or live apart.
The so-called citizenship law passed late on Thursday just before the Knesset disbanded for a holiday recess by a 45-15 majority vote. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party allied with right-wing factions in the opposition to pass the legislation.
Dozens of lawmakers in the 120-seat chamber did not cast votes on the highly divisive legislation.
The Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law replaced a similar temporary order that was first enacted during the height of a Palestinian uprising in 2003 and was renewed annually until it expired last July because it did not have the support of left-wing and Arab members of the governing coalition.
Israeli interior minister Ayelet Shaked took measures to prevent family unification during the several months when the law languished while campaigning for its renewal.
Proponents say the law helps ensure Israel’s security and maintains its “Jewish character”.
Critics say the law discriminates against the 21 percent Palestinian minority – who are Palestinian by heritage and Israeli by citizenship – by barring them from extending citizenship and permanent residency rights to Palestinian spouses.
Lawmaker Gaby Lasky of the left-wing Meretz political party called the law “a black spot on the book of laws in Israel” and wrote on Twitter that, “Meretz as a whole voted against racism.”
Mansour Abbas, the head of the United Arab List (Raam) party, also opposed the legislation.
Ayman Odeh, an Arab lawmaker, retweeted Shaked, calling it a victory for “an apartheid regime.”
Reut Shaer, a lawyer with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, said, “It comes off as more xenophobic or racist [than other laws] because it’s not only giving extra rights and privileges to Jewish people but also preventing certain basic rights only from the Arab population.”
She added that the law mostly affects Palestinian women and children.
It is a form of “collective punishment”, Shaer noted, because it infringes on the rights of an entire population based on the assumption they are all prone to “terrorism”.
Several rights groups have announced they will challenge the law in Israel’s Supreme Court.
Israel occupied East al-Quds, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip during the Six-Day Arab-Israeli War in 1967. It later had to withdraw from Gaza.
More than 600,000 Israelis live in over 230 settlements built since the 1967 occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank.
All the settlements are illegal under international law. The United Nations Security Council has condemned the settlement activities in several resolutions.