Just how important is the Family Reunification Law? Despite its name, the law is actually designed to prevent the reunification of families, when the family concerned has one Israeli-Arab spouse and the other spouse is from PA-controlled territory. With the government now in turmoil as it struggles to muster a majority to renew the law, which recently expired, journalist Nadav Shragai of the Israel Hayom newspaper decided to investigate how important the law actually is for Israel’s security.
What he found was startling: According to data from the years between 2001 and 2016, children of such “mixed marriages” were three times more likely to be involved in terrorist activities than people from the general Arab population.
When Shragai looked at the figures for Jerusalem alone, the numbers were even more shocking – a twelve-fold increase in involvement in terrorist activities.
The need for such a law became apparent in the years following the Six-Day War, after which Israel agreed to grant citizenship to a quarter of a million Palestinians living in Judea, Samaria, or Gaza, who were the offspring of a couple where one spouse was an Israeli Arab. Nonetheless, it was not until 2003 that a law was actually passed, barring PA-Arabs from gaining citizenship via their Israeli-Arab spouses. The law, passed in a temporary format, has been renewed every year since and has always been controversial and subject to allegations of racist bias. Those supporting it point to the security implications if such “family reunifications” were to be freely allowed, calling them a “back door” to terrorists seeking to enter the country.
Despite the existence of the law, Professor Arnon Sofer estimates that there are hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs already living within the pre-1967 borders (the Green Line) without any form of authorization for their presence. “Under the guise of family reunification, they are exercising their ‘right of return’ via the back door,” he said.
Israel Hayom’s investigation revealed additional surprising information. Since the law was first passed until 2020, 54 percent of Arab-Israeli applications for their PA-Arab spouses to be granted either citizenship or residency rights have been approved. This translates into around 48,000 people, and shows that Israel does let humanitarian grounds for leniency influence its decisions in a significant number of cases. Regulations crafted by the Supreme Court have also impacted many decisions on whether to approve or decline a request.
Another significant fact to emerge from a study of the data is that the passing of the law has dramatically decreased the number of PA-Arabs granted citizenship following family reunification applications. In the decade prior to the law’s passing, from the time of the Oslo Accords in 1993 until 2003, around 135,000 Arabs from beyond the Green Line gained citizenship due to their marriage to an Israeli Arab, almost three times more than the approximately 48,000 who have succeeded in gaining citizenship since.
The statistics also suggest that the security concerns continually cited as justification for the law are well-founded. Looking at the period between 2001 and 2016, the children of these mixed-marriages are three times more likely to be involved in terrorist activities than children of couples where both spouses are Arab-Israeli. Whereas around five percent of the Arab sector in Israeli is involved in terrorism in some way, this percentage rises to fifteen percent where the second generation of mixed marriages is concerned – taking Israel as a whole. However, when one looks solely at the picture in Jerusalem, comparing the second generation of mixed families where one spouse was originally a non-citizen from east Jerusalem to regular Arab-Israeli families, the level of involvement in terrorism is twelve times greater than that in the general Arab population.
The same is true in the Negev region; there too there is a twelve-fold increase in terrorist activities among the children of mixed marriages. Between 2000 and 2017, 44 Arabs residing in the Negev were found to be engaging in terrorist activities. These were defined to include the perpetration of attacks, intent to commit attacks, recruiting terrorists or those who assist them, channeling funds to terrorist organizations, and acquiring weapons or other related items to be used for terrorist activity.
An expert opinion provided by the ISA (Shabak) to the Supreme Court several years ago suggests an explanation for this phenomenon, describing how “children of the second generation of reunited families find themselves pulled between two sets of identities and two different loyalties.” As such, many of them continue to view the Israeli state as the enemy.