Denial of Citizenship

Excerpts from “Oded Feller, “The Ministry”, a report on the ministry of the Interior in Israel”, ACRI, December 2004

Residency and Citizenship of individuals who are not Jewish

The formalization of residency status in Israel for individuals who are not Jewish was included in the provisions of the Law of Citizenship, and the Law of Entry into Israel, both enacted in 1952. The Entry Law regularizes entry into Israel and residency in the country for those who are not Israeli citizens or do not want to convert to Judaism as dictated by the Law of Return enacted in 1950. The Law of Return grants citizenship to all Jews in an almost automatic procedure. The Law of Citizenship determines the procedures required for attaining citizenship for Non-Jews.

Residency Permits

The Law of Entry into Israel provides the Minister of the Interior with the authority to grant three types of long-term residency permits:

1. Visitor Permit (tourist visa or temporary work visa)
2. Temporary Resident Permit (temporary residents)
3. Permanent Resident Visa (permanent resident)

Whoever receives a visitor’s permit is only able to work in Israel it is specifically permitted. The owners of such a visa are not registered in the Population Registrar, are not eligible for an identity card, do not have national health insurance, and are not entitled to National Insurance benefits.

Temporary residency is granted for a specific time period and if the visa is not extended it expires. Permanent residency expires if the center of the individual’s life is transferred from Israel (absence from Israel for a period that exceeds seven years or the procurement of permanent residency status or citizenship in another country).
The decision to issue residency permits, extend them, or shorten them is entirely up to the Minister of the Interior. According to the law there are almost no limitations placed upon the Minister of the Interior in his/her assessment of when to issue or deny residency permits.

Residency is the most basic means by which to express membership of a society, a pre-condition for naturalization and the granting of citizenship, and the key to personal economic, and social security. Despite this the criteria, according to which residency is granted, are unclear, not governed by clear regulations, not published, and change all the time.


Citizenship is a status that includes the entitlement to rights both within a state and in the international arena. A citizen, like a resident, is eligible for public health services and social and economic rights. However, unlike a resident, a citizen is also eligible for unlimited entry into the country, protection from expulsion from the country, and the right to participate in the decision-making process. The citizen’s state is obligated to protect him and provide representation for him in international forums.

However, citizenship is not just a status that provides certain advantages. Citizenship is an essential element and essence of human identity and dignity. It underlines the individual’s cultural ties, his connection to his specific community, and his attachment to his country of origin.

As a result of the international recognition of the overriding importance of the citizenship status for the realization of individual rights, representation in the international community, and human dignity, the right to citizenship was recognized as a basic right. Section 15 (1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) states specifically that every individual is entitled to citizenship. The declaration was recognized in some states as Customary International Law, and section 15 was adopted in the framework of judicial rulings in many states. An Israeli judicial ruling also recognized the right to citizenship as a basic right, and the State of Israel pledged its adherence to a number of international commitments that protect the right to citizenship.

Residents over the age of 18, who are non-Jews and are not spouses of Israeli citizens, can become citizens in one of two ways: naturalization or by being granted citizenship.

An individual wishing to undergo naturalization must fulfill the following conditions (section 5A in the Law of Citizenship) he must be over 18 year old, he must be able to prove that out of the last five years, prior to the citizenship request, Israel has been the center of his life for three of them, he must be comply with the conditions for eligibility for permanent residency status, he must be able to prove that he has settled in Israel or intends to settle in the country, he must demonstrate some knowledge of the Hebrew language, he must revoke any previous citizenship status if he has any, and must declare his loyalty to the State of Israel.

Minors can also become Israeli citizens in one of these two ways. The naturalization of an individual bestows the same status on his child as dependent minors. The Minister of the Interior may grant citizenship to a minor resident of Israel whose parents request that he be granted citizenship.

Children who have one Israeli Parent and One Parent who is not Israeli

When a couple comprised of a mother who is not Israeli and a father who is a citizen tried to register his fatherhood for their child with a clerk at the Population Registrar, they were refused. The couple was not provided with any documentation, the child or the parents are not registered, and the child is not considered a citizen. The state considers the child to be a foreign national despite the fact that his father is an Israeli citizen.

According to the instructions of the Population Registrar, in the event that both parents are Israeli citizens or when the mother is an Israeli citizen, the child will be registered as an Israeli citizen after his birth. However, when the mother is an Israeli citizen and the father is a foreign national his (the father) declaration of fatherhood is not to be accepted. The father is to be registered only on the basis of “incontrovertible and irrefutable evidence” or through a court ruling that confirms his fatherhood.

Hospitals have been instructed not to provide an identity number for babies that are born to foreign national mothers. ACRI has handled many cases on behalf parents and their child who fell victim to this regulation as one of the parents is not a citizen. The Ministry of the Interior discriminates against these parents and children with regard to registration in the Population Registrar. It refuses to accept the declaration of fatherhood from Israeli and foreign national fathers.

The child in the worst situation is any child of an Israeli father and foreign national mother. In this case the Ministry of the Interior prohibits absolutely the registration of the child in the Population Registrar and does not grant him/her Israeli citizenship.

A child that is not registered shortly after birth is liable to be devoid of citizenship. This is an unacceptable situation, an individual with no citizenship status has no legal protection of their entitlement to access rights that are dependent upon a social framework to provide them: health and welfare services, and immunity from deportation. The result of this situation is that the child of an Israeli father and a foreign national mother is not issued an identification number and is denied access to even the most basic of rights, despite the fact that according to the law he should be registered as a citizen of Israel as the offspring of an Israeli citizen.

This policy of the Ministry of the Interior was shaped over the last few years in cooperation with the Ministry of Justice. In the past such a system did not exist. The instructions by the Attorney General to the government in 1967 state, that according to section 4 of the Law of Citizenship “whoever is born to a father or mother who is an Israeli citizen, is an Israeli citizen from birth, and it does not matter if the birth occurred before the marriage of the parents or after the marriage”. Moreover, “there is nothing in the Law of Citizenship, in its wording or intention, that justifies an interpretation which limits the father and the mother with reference to section 4 of the law solely to parents whose marriage is officially recognized.”

Children with no legal status

According to the statistics of the Ministry of the Interior, thousands of children living in Israel have no official status. Among them are children of migrant workers, Palestinian children who live in Israel, children who arrived in the country alone as part of the immigrant absorption program, and became devoid of status when they were discharged from the educational framework they were studying in, and children who arrived with their parents and were abandoned or were orphaned before their legal status was defined. When a naturalized citizen of Israel (for example a foreign national spouse of an Israeli citizen) has children from a previous relationship, he/she is required by the Ministry of the Interior to produce a document from the other biological parent of the child testifying to his/her agreement that the child undergo the naturalization process in Israel, or a judicial ruling attesting to the fact that the requesting parent has sole power of attorney. In many cases the connection with the other parent has been cut and it is impossible to contact them, and the children are left with no official status.

Children of Immigrants and Naturalized Citizens

An especially large group who “fall between the cracks” are the children of immigrants who immigrated under the auspices of the Law of Return, and naturalized citizens (e.g. spouses of Israeli citizens). The Law of Return applies to Jews, the son of a Jew and the grandchild of a Jew. Grandchildren of Jews and their spouses are permitted to immigrate to Israel and procure citizenship even if they are parents of children who are not eligible for return. Thus a situation exists (something that has been forgotten during the great wave of immigration from the former USSR during the 90s) that there are families living in Israel in which the parents are Israeli citizens and their children, who immigrated with them, are not citizens.

The situation of children of previous relationships or spouses of immigrants or Israeli citizens is extremely serious. According to the declared policy of the Ministry of the Interior, the young children of Israeli citizens can procure status in Israel if they lived with their parents, who were granted legal residency status in Israel, two years at least before their arrival in the country.

On more than one occasion, a policy of deliberate delays in the processing of requests was adopted for the sole reason of postponing a decision until the applicant reaches the age of 18. An individual who reaches adulthood and has no official status in Israel is an illegal resident and it is permissible to ask him to leave or even deport him.

Children of East Jerusalem Residents

Children of permanent residents are also liable to find themselves with no official status, and in the case of children of East Jerusalem residents this is a routine occurrence. Children of permanent Arab residents – primarily residents of East Jerusalem – are not registered upon their birth; instead an investigation is carried out as to where they were born and where the center of their life and their parent’s life is. The parents must submit a request for registration of their children, which is dealt with over a period of months and years.

In the past the Ministry of the Interior granted residency only to children whose father was a resident, and children who only the mother was a resident were not registered and were not granted official status. In 1989 the Supreme Court disqualified this policy and ruled that the Ministry must grant residency status to children whose mother only is a citizen if the child’s center of life is Israel. [HCJ 48/89 Issa v. the Administrative Office of the District Population Registrar] In practice the Ministry of the Interior continued to only register children of fathers who are citizens. In addition to which, the Ministry of the Interior instructed hospitals to send a notification to the Population Registrar in the occupied territories of the birth of a baby whose mother is a permanent resident and whose father is a resident of the territories, so that the baby is registered there. The Ministry further instructed that the child be issued an identity number as a resident of the territories. The Palestinian ID number is used at a later stage as a means of denying the registration of the child in Israel.

As a result of a petition that was submitted to the Jerusalem Administrative Court, the court ruled in 2004 that a new regulation be instituted for granting citizenship to children of residents who were born outside of Israel. According to the regulation, the children are granted status in the framework of “the staged naturalization process”. The parents are required to submit a request for “family reunification”. When the request is approved the child is granted the status of temporary resident for two years. At the end of the two years the child is eligible for permanent residency on condition of the submission of a further request, proof that the center of his/her life is in Israel, and in the absence of any opposition from the General Security Services. (Administrative petition, Jerusalem, 402/03 Judah v. The Minister of the Interior.)

Many children are not registered due to bureaucratic obstacles.

One must add to bureaucratic obstacles the high financial cost that many of the applicants cannot afford.

In 2002 the Israeli government decided to freeze the processing of Palestinian residency applications. As a result, all processing of application for residency status for children of residents who were born outside Israel was ceased. Since then the amendment to the Law of Citizenship and Entry into Israel was enacted that prohibits the granting of residency status in Israel to Palestinians. The Ministry of the Interior refuses to grant residency status to children of permanent residents who were born in the occupied territories or were registered in the Population Registrar in the territories at their birth. The law permits the granting of residency status up to the age of 12, and in special cases. The only status the Ministry of the Interior is prepared to grant is a temporary permit issued by the military authority that allows the child to remain in Israel. The permit is similar to a tourist visa. The child is however permitted to remain in the country with his parents, although he is not registered in the Population Registrar, has no state health insurance, and is not covered by the National Insurance Institute.

Children of Migrant Workers

When an individual reaches adulthood, his status in Israel is determined, even from a legal perspective, as distinct from his parents. As an adult he is an independent person in every aspect of rights entitlement and legal responsibilities. A petition submitted by ACRI (administrative petitions [Tel-Aviv] 1113/03 Yohin Mok v. Minister of the Interior) relates to young men and women who grew up in Israel and were educated in Israeli schools, and have integrated absolutely into Israeli society and culture. Israel has become their home and the center of their lives. These individuals have cut off all ties with the country of which their parents hold citizenship and see themselves as Israeli in every way. Their presence in Israel was forced upon them in their youth and in some cases with their birth, by their parents.

When they reach adulthood these individuals are devoid of rights. They live in a country with no official status, and are constantly afraid that they will be detained by the police and deported. They are not entitled to work legally in Israel and therefore find any work they can, usually casual laboring jobs. They have no chance of working in other more rewarding fields of occupation or to develop a career that compliments their particular talents. They have no state health insurance, are not eligible for support by the National Insurance Institute, and are afraid to leave the country for fear of not being allowed to return.

The petition, which calls for the formalization of the status of children in Israel who are stateless, was submitted in 2002. The petitioners are requesting permanent residency status in Israel, and the introduction of a provision to ensure that any individual who is not Israeli but has spent most of his young life in Israel, and Israel is the center of his life, be eligible for a permanent residency permit upon reaching adulthood.

In January 2004, the Israeli government decided to establish a ministerial committee to deliberate on issues related to the work of the Population Registrar including the issue of children of migrant workers. The committee has since met for only a few meetings and is yet to make a decision.

“Humanitarian Exceptions”: The Violation of the Right to Family Life

Section 7 of the Law of Citizenship states that the spouse of an Israeli citizen can be granted Israeli citizenship through naturalization, even if they do not comply with all the conditions stated in the Law as necessary components for being granted citizenship (knowledge of Hebrew, for example, or denouncing a prior citizenship). In a similar way the right of a resident who is not a citizen to formalize their status to a permanent resident in Israel for their spouse is also recognized.

The right of every Israeli to procure legal status in the state is the essence of the right to family life. The non-Israeli spouse must prove that the center of his/her life is in Israel. The Ministry of the Interior is authorized to refuse to grant formal status to an individual in Israel who presents a security or criminal danger to the state and its residents.

The right to family life does not only depend upon the relations between the married couple, or the relations between parents and their young children. The principle of equality obligates the state to honor a couple`s relationship that live together (a couple who live a joint life without being married).

The Ministry of the Interior has declared war on Israeli citizens and their non-Israeli spouses, and on foreign national parents and their children. The Ministry of the Interior places obstacles in the path of those who are not Israeli trying to procure status in Israel, and in other instances the Ministry does everything in its power to make their life in Israel untenable. A particular vindictive attitude and systematic maltreatment are the lot of Arab citizens and residents that wish to make a home with a non-Israeli spouse.

The granting of permanent residency status to the spouse of an Israeli citizen or resident is perceived by the Ministry of the Interior as an act of charity and not the realization of a basic right, or in the language of The Ministry of the Interior “a humanitarian gesture” for the sake of “family reunification”.

The consideration of nationality and ethnic origins in the choice of a partner who is not an Israeli are the new elements upon which the Ministry of the Interior bases its decision. The Ministry’s senior officials do not hesitate to make their voice heard in relation to the private affairs of everyone of the states’ residents. It is particularly disdainful in the case of spouses of Arab origin, and in particular Palestinians. The Ministry’s officials invest great effort in ensuring that a non-Israeli spouse is not granted official residency status in Israel. These efforts received in May 2002 the official support of the Israeli government, which decided to freeze the processing of applications of spouses of Palestinian origin. In August 2003 an amendment to the Law of Citizenship and the Law of Entry into Israel was enacted which legalized the government decision. In August 2004 it became known that the Prime Minister had ordered the Israeli security services to delay and not to authorize applications of citizens of Arab countries who are married to Israelis. ACRI submitted petitions to the Supreme Court against the government decision, and against the Prime Minister’s instructions, which tear families apart in a racist manner. The petition is currently under deliberation. Other petition are still pending that relate to the government decision and to the law.

At the request of the Attorney General in January 2004 a verbal hearing was held in the court in front of a panel of 13 judges, which is extremely rare. Since then the issue has been pending and some of the panel’s judges have subsequently retired, and the to date Supreme Court has still not issued a ruling.

Difficulties in the Formalization of Status of non-Jewish Spouses

The policy of the Ministry of the Interior on the issue of spouses of Israelis has undergone many changes over the last few years. Until 1996 the declared policy of the Ministry of the Interior was to grant permanent residency status to the spouses of Jewish citizens as soon as their application was authorized, except for exceptional cases. The spouses of citizens who are not Jewish were forced to undergo and long complicated procedure to formalize their status.

Those trying to realize their right to family life have to travel a hard and punishing road in their attempt to procure legal Israeli status for their partner of choice, and to live with them in a stable and secure environment like any other family.

The following is a description of the most severe obstacles placed in the path of those wishing to procure legal status in Israel.

  • The Deliberate contraction of the staged process

  • Inconsistent demands for documentation.

  • The rejection of applications with no explanation.

  • The presentation of demands that are untenable and illegal. An example of which is the demand by the Ministry that spouses who are residents of the territories must produce a Palestinian passport.

  • Refugees Requesting Asylum and Stateless Persons

    The state of Israel is a signatory to the International Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. A refugee is an individual who is not residing within the realms of the country in which he/she is a citizen, and as a result of a firmly based fear that he will be persecuted for reasons of race, religion, citizenship, association with a specific social group, or a particular political viewpoint, cannot rely on the protection of that same country or does not want to for fear of persecution. (section I(A)(2) of the Convention Relating to the status of Refugees). A refugee will be considered a person who, as a result of the aforementioned circumstances resides outside his permanent place of residence, is a stateless person, and is unable to return to his country of citizenship or does not want to for fear of persecution.

    The State of Israel is not only a signatory to the Convention and the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. Although the covenant is not enshrined in Israeli law, when the Israeli court interprets legislation relating to refugees it is obligated to give preference to the provisions of the covenant. Up until 2002 Israel did not act to implement the provisions, however, over the years Israel has absorbed refugees in a number of “initiated operations”, as a humanitarian gesture. An example of which is the few dozen refugees from Vietnam taken in by Israel in 1977, and the hundred refugees from Bosnia who were invited by the Israeli government during the 90s, although no formal mechanism was established to deal with the refugee issue.

    In 2001, the “procedure to regularize the issue of those seeking asylum” was introduced, and a committee appointed (inter-ministerial of course) in juxtaposition to the Population Registrar to deliberate on and recommend the granting of official residency status to refugees. According to the procedure, in order for an individual to be recognized as a refugee he must first be recognized by the Israeli office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, whoever this office recognizes as an asylum seeker deserving of protection, is eligible for a residency permit and a work permit in Israel, and his case is brought before the Refugee Committee. The committee can recommend the granting of a residency permit, but the Minster of the Interior makes the decision. Approximately 40 requests reach the UN office every day but only 200 people have been recognized as refugees and have been granted official status in the State of Israel. Some 250 have been recognized as asylum seekers, some 650 from countries embroiled in conflict (Sierra Leone, Liberia, The Ivory Coast, and Congo), were recognized as temporary asylum seekers, but only a handful were granted legal status. An appeal can be submitted to the UN Commissioner to challenge his decision not to recognize an individual as an asylum seeker, and the Minister of the Interior relies absolutely on the Commissioner’s ruling. Those who enjoy UN protection are entitled to residency and a work permit, but are not entitled to social rights like health insurance, housing assistance etc.

    The procedures in the Ministry of the Interior and the committee take a great deal of time and are not made public. The committee, which convenes once a month, deliberates on 15 cases each time. The committee members are representatives of various government ministries. They are not familiar with the subject, are unaware of the covenant’s provisions, and have a clear interest in limiting the number of foreign nationals who are granted residency status in Israel.

    The lack of professionalism and the lack of specific criteria are even worse in the case of stateless persons. A stateless person is an individual who is not recognized as a citizen of any state.

    Thus, for example, thousands of Bedouin live in the Negev without citizenship and have never been registered. According to the data from the UN Commissioner’s office, dozens of people are being detained in detention facilities as illegal residents but cannot be deported. Among them are citizens of the former Soviet Union whose citizenship was rescinded with the break up of the country.

    ACRI deals with a number of cases of individuals with no citizenship that were released from detention facilities after many months when it became clear that they could not be deported. Despite this, The Ministry of the Interior refuses to formalize their status. They are not allowed to work, and are not entitled to health insurance or social rights.

    last updated : 24/02/05

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    Categories: Citizenship and Residency, Democracy and Civil Liberties, The Right to Family


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