x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Israel to make Palestinians take pledge of allegiance

Activists say the legislation expected to be passed today is a means to keep families separated and purge non-Jewish residents.

RAMALLAH // The Israeli cabinet is expected to approve today several new regulations pertaining to immigration and citizenship, including a measure that would make it compulsory for applicants to swear loyalty to Israel as a "Jewish and democratic state".

The new regulations are billed as an attempt to counter what officials said is a security threat from growing infiltration of illegal aliens into the country. But Palestinians and human rights activists said it is a blatant attempt at preventing primarily Palestinian family reunification and, eventually, ridding Israel of its non-Jewish citizens. "The regulations mix ideology with the issue of citizenship," said Uri Avnery, a veteran Israeli peace activist. "They are first of all designed to prevent any Arab from obtaining Israeli citizenship through marriage. But what it all ultimately leads to, even if no one dares say it, is ethnic cleansing."

The other restrictions to be imposed on Palestinians wishing to gain residency or citizenship are part of a law enacted in 2005 that included a provision barring Palestinians married to Israelis from joining their families before approval from the Israeli interior ministry. That provision has meant that family reunification for Palestinians has effectively been frozen since 2005. Rights groups have voiced strong criticism, with Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, on Thursday protesting against the wording of the loyalty declaration, "because it requires all non-Jews to identify with Zionism and imposes a political ideology and loyalty to the principles of Judaism and Zionism".

Still, the legislation is likely to pass today with a minimum of fuss. The regulations are the latest in a growing body of legislation proposed in an Israeli parliament dominated by right-wing parties that has met with protests from a wide spectrum of local and international rights groups. These include laws that seek to make it illegal for Israelis (as well as foreigners) to support any boycott of Israel, including settlement products, as well as legislation to increase government monitoring of non-governmental organisation in order, critics have said, to rein in Israeli NGOs critical of Israel's actions in the occupied territories.

This week, moreover, the Knesset, Israel's parliament, voted to strip Hanin Zuabi, an Israeli-Palestinian legislator, of her parliamentary privileges for taking part in the Turkish flotilla aimed at breaching Israel's sea blockade of Gaza. Meanwhile, four Hamas legislators in the Palestinian parliament were stripped of their Jerusalem residency rights last month, a fate they share with thousands of others. In 2008 alone, more than 4,500 Palestinians were similarly denied the ability to live in Jerusalem.

"These legislations are coming up because the extreme right has taken over the Knesset," said Mr Avnery. "The agenda of this parliament is being fixed by ultra-rightists like [Israeli foreign minister Avigdor] Lieberman, the Shas Party and the openly fascist National-Union Party." While Mr Avnery rejected the notion that the composition of the Israeli parliament reflected broader Israeli attitudes, blaming instead the absence of a coherent left wing, should this trend continue, he added, it would be "very bad for Israeli democracy".

Rima, a Ramallah professional who did not want her real name mentioned for fear that it might prejudice her pending application for residency in Jerusalem, is someone who may be directly affected by the new legislation. Married 13 years to a Palestinian Jerusalemite with whom she has two children, Rima, who holds a West Bank ID, has tried repeatedly to be granted the right to live with her husband in Jerusalem.

"I am not sure the new legislation will affect me, since Israel is in any case not allowing family reunification," she said yesterday. "But if it gets to that stage, I will refuse to swear loyalty to a 'Jewish state'. This is racist legislation." The new regulations did not come as a surprise to her, however, as they are only the latest in a long line of legislation that aims ultimately at ridding Israel of its non-Jewish citizens, she said.

"I don't think Israel has ever hid that it wants the country to be exclusively Jewish. Their problem is, you can't have a Jewish state that is also democratic when a sizable part of the population is non-Jewish." Some 20 per cent of the Israeli population is Palestinian, and Rima said Israel was obligated to grant them full citizenship since "they were here before Israel was created". But Mr Avnery said if the Israeli Right had its way, the non-Jewish population would eventually be forced to leave.

"It is the stated aim of Lieberman to get Arabs out of Israel," said Mr Avnery, "and it is the aim of the Israeli Right as a whole to eventually have a state for Jews only." @Email:okarmi@thenational.ae