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Last update - 01:27 15/08/2003
UN: Israel must revoke change to Citizenship Law
By The Associated Press

GENEVA - Israel should revoke a new law which forces Palestinians who marry Israelis to live separate lives or move out of the country, a United Nations panel said yesterday.

The 18 independent experts on the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination unanimously passed a resolution calling for the change, saying the legislation, passed on July 31, "raises serious issues" of compliance with an international human rights treaty.

Israel "should revoke this ban and reconsider its policy," the panel said.

Yaakov Levy, the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, said the committee's action was "highly politicized, demonstrating a biased approach which singles out Israel."

The law, which Israel's parliament decided would be in effect for one year, prevents Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip who marry Israeli Arabs from obtaining residency permits in Israel.

Arabs make up about 20 percent of Israel's population of 6 million. About 3 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Many families were divided by cease-fire lines after wars, and over the years, marriage between the two groups has been common.

Since 1993, more than 100,000 Palestinians have obtained Israeli permits in this manner and some Israelis see this as a security threat.

The Israeli government said the law is necessary to prevent terror attacks.

In a letter to the United Nations committee obtained by The Associated Press, Levy said there were "numerous concrete instances where the granting of a legal status to Palestinian spouses of Israeli residents has, in fact, been abused by Palestinian residents of the [West Bank and Gaza] for suicide terrorism."

But international and Israeli critics have called the legislation racist.

The committee oversees global compliance with the 1969 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Israel ratified the accord in 1979.

All countries which have signed the treaty are meant to submit regular reports showing how they respect it. Israel is due to deliver its 10th report in December ahead of the committee's session next year.

However, using its emergency procedures, the committee decided to discuss the law at its current session because it has just been passed. It also said Israel should provide more details when it delivers its report.

Levy said Israel was unhappy with the committee's "decision to preempt and undermine the normal process of reporting."

He also noted that the law is still under review by Israel's Supreme Court, after facing challenges by opponents. "The domestic internal proceedings have not yet been exhausted," he said.