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Am Johal: Israel's Citizenship Law To Be Renewed

Israel's Citizenship Law To Be Renewed

By Am Johal

No one knows better than Ariel Sharon how to give a platform to the political right. Sharon, of course, this new man of the middle, when not battling the extreme right or outmaneuvering the Feiglins, was once the chief front man of the Israeli right and the father of the settlement movement.

On Monday, April 4th, the Israeli Ministers of Interior and Justice, the National Security Advisor and the Head of the Security Service met in the office of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to discuss the renewal of the Citizenship Law.

The "Nationality and Entry into Israel Law" known as the Citizenship and Family Unification Law denies Israeli citizenship or residency status to the spouses of Israeli citizens who are residents of the West Bank or Gaza.

"This law will be guided by demographic considerations meant to ensure a solid Jewish majority for years to come," said Prime Minister Ariel Sharon during the meeting. "There is no need to hide behind security arguments. There is a need for the existence of a Jewish state."

Lawyer Alhan Nahas Daoud of the Mossawa Center, the Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens of Israel says, "The Sharon government is implementing a racist, demographic strategy that ignores the rights of Arab children, women, men and families who are also citizens of Israel." The Israeli government plans to renew the legislation in mid-May.

Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and FIDH have previously criticized the legislation.

The UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, descent and national or ethnic origin.

The European Commission in 2004 in response to a question asked by MP Daniel Cohn-Bendit to the European Parliament said in a statement, "In the Commission's view, this order raises issues of concern in relation to potential discrimination in the highly sensitive area of family rights."

The US State Departments Human Rights Report for 2004 also expressed concerns with the law.

Over 100,000 Palestinians have received Israeli citizenship since the Oslo Accords were signed. Only twenty of these people have been engaged in acts of violence. Human rights organizations view this law as a form of collective punishment. 20,000 people are currently affected by this legislation.

Despite overtures of peace since the death of Yasser Arafat, the Sharon government has continued to implement their plan to expand settlements in the West Bank and pass discriminatory legislation. If the international community including the US, the EU and the United Nations do not raise concerns and are not effective in persuading Israel to not proceed with the legislation, it will only serve to encourage the Israeli government to continue to implement discriminatory legislation based on demographic considerations.

To write into law a system of inequality for your citizens is to betray very basic notions of what democracies are based upon. The Separation Wall is only the physical manifestation of a series of initiatives designed to separate the Israelis from the Palestinians both within Israel and the Occupied Territories.

Those who are pushing the demographic argument are walking a fine line and will only bolster the extreme right who openly support the ethnic transfer of Israel's Arab citizens. If the international community does not intervene in this situation, it will only encourage the Sharon government to continue to pass legislation which will enshrine inequality both in to law and into its implementation.

On the eve of a visit with George W. Bush, Sharon is pushing the line that the Gaza withdrawal is a radical measure in its own right which is inflaming the right in Israel. However, Sharon continues to support settlement expansion and discriminatory legislation directed at Palestinians and Israel's Arab citizens. Reframing the debate in this way often times serves as a pretext to justifying the violation of human rights on the ground. This is not a foundation for a long term strategy for peace in Israel and Palestine.


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