Arab spouses face Israeli legal purge

ISRAEL'S Supreme Court yesterday upheld a controversial law preventing West Bank Palestinians from living inside Israel with their Israeli Arab spouses.

The decision is expected to affect more than 20,000 families in which spouses from the West Bank had temporary permission to live in Israel or lived in the West Bank while awaiting hoped-for family unification inside Israel, according to the Mosawa Centre, an advocacy group for the Israeli Arab minority, who make up one fifth of Israel's population.

Murad al-Sanaa, an Arab lawyer from Israel who is married to a Palestinian from Bethlehem in the West Bank, said: "The court is preventing me from living with my wife. My children were born in Israel and are Israeli citizens, but now they have to live without their mother if they want to live in Israel."

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Mr al-Sanaa said the court decision nullified the temporary permission to live in Israel that had been granted to his wife after they married three years ago.

State lawyers said the law, passed last July, aimed to prevent spouses of Israeli citizens from entering the country to carry out terrorist attacks.

Leaders of Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert's Kadima party, however, said the intention was demographic, to restrict the number of Arab citizens inside Israel and preserve the state's Jewish character.

"We have to maintain the state's democratic nature, but also its Jewish nature," said the immigration minister, Zeev Boim. "The extent of entry of in-laws to Israeli territory is intolerable."

Mishael Cheshin, one of the six judges who upheld the law against five dissenting judges, wrote that at a time of war the state could "prevent the entry of enemy subjects" to its territory even if they were married to citizens of the state.

According to the Shin Bet intelligence agency, about 25 of the almost 100,000 Palestinians married to Israeli Arabs have been involved in terrorist attacks in recent years.

Abir Kopti, a spokeswoman for the Mosawa Centre, said: "This law is racist. If several people are involved in suicide bombings, it doesn't mean you punish 20,000 families.

"We feel that the purpose is to reduce the number of Arabs in the state."

Meanwhile, an American teenager, Daniel Wultz, 16, died yesterday of injuries sustained in a Tel Aviv suicide bombing last month, doctors said, bringing the death toll from the attack to 11.