Israeli law keeps couples apart

 Christian Aid partners have condemned a new Israeli law preventing Palestinians who marry Israelis from living in Israel. An Israeli law barring Palestinians from the Occupied Palestinian Territories from obtaining Israeli citizenship or residency when they marry Israelis has been condemned by human rights groups. While the rights of other nationalities marrying Israelis remain unchanged, the new law focuses exclusively on Palestinians. "The new law takes away constitutionally-protected rights explicitly on the basis of ethnic or national belonging," said Hassan Jabareen, general director of Adalah, a legal centre for Israeli-Arabs funded by Christian Aid. "The law is not only discriminatory, it is racist." And Yael Stein, research director of the Israeli human rights organisation B'tselem, also a Christian Aid partner, said: "You can marry someone from the UK or the States, but not from the Territories. It's a racist law." The law, which applies to existing marriages as well as couples who marry in future, will primarily affect Israel's Arab citizens, which make up one fifth of the Israeli population, as they are the group who generally marry Palestinians from the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Palestinian spouses from the West Bank and Gaza will no longer be allowed to live in Israel. Israeli citizens - both Arabs and Jews - have been barred from travelling to or living in much of the OPT since the introduction of a military order at the beginning of the intifada almost three years ago. Couples who want to stay within the law will be forced to live apart or seek a home abroad. In practice, however, many couples may choose to live together illegally in the West Bank or Gaza. "People will find ways to live together," said Ms Stein. "But it's not an easy life. You can't go out; you are afraid of the police." Concerns also centre on the degree to which the law interferes in people's private lives. 'It's a very intrusive law. It goes into people's homes, saying that you can't create these families,' Ms Stein added. The Israeli government says the law is to tackle increasing levels of terrorist activity carried out by Palestinians coming to Israel. Campaigners are seeking to have the new law, which currently has the status of a renewable 'temporary order' lasting a year, repealed. Adalah is preparing a petition to the Supreme Court of Israel challenging the legality of the law. "Palestinians living in Israel are a community at risk," said Ameer Makhoul, director of Ittijah, an umbrella organisation for Palestinian organisations in Israel, funded by Christian Aid. "We seek protection from the international community. This is not an internal Israeli issue; this is a human rights issue," he added.

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