Israel’s “revolting” Marriage Law Faces A Court Challenge

by James M. Wall

Veteran Israeli journalist Uri Avnery is constantly outraged at the conduct of the nation he loves.  

In a column in the Palestine Chronicle, Avnery writes about a case now before the Israeli Supreme Court in which a group of Jews and Arabs seek to overturn a draconian Israeli law that attacks the core of Palestinian families.  

Though security was the pretense for the passage of the law, Avnery knows the real reason for this “temporary” law was to make life untenable for Palestinians who live both inside and outside the border of Israel, a border that continually expands, also under the pretense of “security”.

Israel has no constitution. Instead, the nation is governed under what is known as “Basic Laws”. The case now before the Supreme Court insists this marriage law violates the “equal rights of all citizens” provision of those Basic Laws.

The marriage law mandates that the wife or husband of an Israeli citizen is not allowed to reside with a spouse in Israel if the non-Israeli spouse comes from the occupied Palestinian territories or from a “hostile” Arab country. The non-Israeli spouse is either forbidden to live in Israel, or if they have received a six month visa as a “visitor” to their own home, the visa must be renewed every six months, a renewal easily and often rejected.

Uri Avnery describes this law as “one of the most revolting laws ever enacted in Israel.” 

An indifferent American public will not know, much less care, how damaging this law is to Palestinian families. They will also not know that the law is nothing less than the latest act of “ethnic cleansing” which has been the dark underside of the effort by Israeli governments to eliminate non-Jews from the state.

Israeli scholar Ilan Pappe’s book, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, is a well-documented study of this attempt by Israeli leaders to guarantee Jews a “safe haven” in their own Jewish state. A video lecture by Pappe is available on line.   

The term “ethnic cleansing” is anathema to most Israeli Jews. They resent the use of the term because it suggests a parallel to laws passed and enforced in Nazi Germany. One of those laws allowed the execution of a Jew who had “relations” with a non-Jew. These “cleansing” laws were at the center of the court case depicted in the 1961 movie Judgment at Nuremberg.

The Israeli government which passed and now enforces the law, is fully aware that the law is destructive to Palestinian families. Avnery explains:

The Arab citizens of Israel belong to Hamulas (clans) which extend beyond the borders of the state. Arabs generally marry within the Hamula. This is an ancient custom, deeply rooted in their culture, probably originating in the desire to keep the family property together. In the Bible, Isaac married his cousin, Rebecca.

The “Green Line”, which was fixed arbitrarily by the events of the 1948 war, divides families. One village found itself in Israel, the next remained outside the new state, the Hamula lives in both. The Nakba also created a large Palestinian Diaspora.

Currently, 20% of Israeli citizens are Israeli Arabs (around 1.3 million). An Israeli Arab who follows the custom of his Hamula clan will sometimes find a life partner within Israel or be drawn to a partner in the West Bank or in a refugee camp in Lebanon or Syria, where a far greater number of Palestinians now live.

During the 41 years that Israel has occupied the Palestinian territories, estimates vary, but between twenty and one hundred thousand Palestinians, male and female, who live outside the changing borders of Israel have married Israeli Arabs living in Israel. Many became Israeli citizens. The Supreme Court is now determining whether the Israeli Knesset’s “temporary” law preventing these couples from living together within Israel is a violation of Israel’s Basic Laws which are meant to provide “equal rights” to all its citizens.

 The Israeli Ministry of Justice lawyers, in arguing before the Supreme Court “let the cat out of the bag”  ( Avnery’s phrase), asserting, for the first time, in unequivocal language, that: “The State of Israel is at war with the Palestinian people, people against people, collective against collective.” Avnery is outraged at this assertion. He suggests the sentence be read several times “to appreciate its full impact.”

This is not a phrase escaping from the mouth of a campaigning politician and disappearing with his breath, but a sentence written by cautious lawyers carefully weighing every letter.

If we are at war with “the Palestinian people”, this means that every Palestinian, wherever he or she may be, is an enemy. That includes the inhabitants of the occupied territories, the refugees scattered throughout the world as well as the Arab citizens of Israel proper. A mason in Taibeh, Israel, a farmer near Nablus in the West Bank, a policeman of the Palestinian Authority in Jenin, a Hamas fighter in Gaza, a girl in a school in the Mia Mia refugee camp near Sidon, Lebanon, a naturalized American shopkeeper in New York – “collective against collective”.

Of course, the lawyers did not invent this principle. It has been accepted for a long time in daily life, and all arms of the government act accordingly. . .

The anti-Arab marriage law is part of a long series of Israeli actions. Avnery draws up the list:

The army averts its eyes when an “illegal” outpost is established in the West Bank on the land of Palestinians, and sends soldiers to protect the invaders. Israeli courts customarily impose harsher sentences on Arab defendants than on Jews guilty of the same offense. The soldiers of an army unit order T-shirts showing a pregnant Arab woman with a rifle trained on her belly and the words “1 shot, 2 kills” (as exposed in Haaretz this week).

These anonymous lawyers should perhaps be thanked for daring to formulate in a judicial document the reality that had previously been hidden in a thousand different ways.

The simple reality is that 127 years after the beginning of the first Jewish wave of immigration, 112 years after the founding of the Zionist movement, 61 years after the establishment of the State of Israel, 41 years after the beginning of the occupation, the Israeli-Palestinian war continues along all the front lines with undiminished vigor.

The inherent aim of the Zionist enterprise was and is to turn the country – at least up to the Jordan River – into a homogeneous Jewish state. Throughout the course of Zionist-Israeli history, this aim has not been forsaken for a moment. Every cell of the Israeli organism contains this genetic code and therefore acts accordingly, without the need for a specific directive.

Avnery describes this 127 year process with a compelling metaphor, the “urge of a river to reach the sea”.

A river yearning for the sea does not recognize any law, except for the law of gravity. If the terrain allows it, it will flow in a straight course, if not – it will cut a new riverbed, twist like a snake, turn right and left, go around obstacles. If necessary, it will split into rivulets. From time to time, new brooks will join it. And every minute it will strive to reach the sea.

The Palestinian people, of course, oppose this process. They refuse to budge, set up dams, try to push the stream back. True, for more than a hundred years they have been on the retreat, but they have never surrendered. They continue to resist with the same persistence as the advancing river.

One of the more polluted rivulets that emerged in the recent Gaza invasion combined rabbinical extremism with military tactics. Israel’s army is a citizen’s army that has long prided itself on being a “moral force”. But a Reuters report of a recent press conference involving soldiers who took part in the invasion brought this disturbing news:

Rabbis in the Israeli army told battlefield troops in January’s Gaza offensive they were fighting a “religious war” against gentiles, according to one army commander’s account published Friday (March 20). “Their message was very clear: we are the Jewish people, we came to this land by a miracle, God brought us back to this land and now we need to fight to expel the gentiles who are interfering with our conquest of this holy land,” he said.

The account by Ram, a pseudonym to shield the soldier’s identity, was published by the left-leaning Haaretz newspaper in the second day of revelations that have rocked the Israeli military.

A democratic nation that places its military forces in a situation where they are guided by fanatic religious authorities, is a democratic nation that will find itself dangerously isolated from the world community.

About wallwritings

James M. Wall is currently a Contributing Editor of The Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, Illinois. From 1972 through 1999, he was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine. Jim launched this new personal blog April 24, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to jameswall8@gmail.com Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years.
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5 Responses to Israel’s “revolting” Marriage Law Faces A Court Challenge

  1. John Narver says:

    An excellent piece. Keep up the pressure — and the good work. Many thanks.

    John

  2. I think that it is a very interesting and amusing article. Practically all its main points are true.

  3. owlminerva says:

    ‘the urge of a river to reach the sea’

    what a beautiful metaphore.

  4. James says:

    Does this law apply to, say, a Jewish woman from Yemen who marries an Israeli Jew, or does it affect only Arabs?

  5. I enjoyed your posts, the fact that your site is a little bit different makes it so very interesting, I get fed up of seeing the same old boring recycled stuff all of the time.

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