Adalah v. Israel

Domestic Courts

Download Files

Justice Initiative, November 24, 2008
292.06 KB pdf
Discriminatory Ban on Family Unification

The government of Israel issued a directive forbidding Israeli citizens who marry individuals from the Occupied Palestinian Territories from bringing their spouses to Israel, on grounds of national security. The ban was then extended to spouses from four additional countries. The organization Adalah challenged this discriminatory policy in court.


In May 2002, the Israeli government introduced a new law that placed a moratorium on applications for family reunification between Israeli citizens and Palestinians from the Occupied Palestinian Territories, preventing Israeli citizens who married Palestinians from bringing their new spouses to Israel. The Israeli legislature, the Knesset, officially enacted the law in July 2003 through the Nationality and Entry into Israel Law as a temporary order. Despite its temporary nature, the law was extended in July 2004, January 2005, and July 2005. The July 2005 extension contained amendments that provided exceptions allowing applications for visas by women over the age of 25 and men over the age of 35.

In May 2006, the human rights group Adalah challenged the law, but the Supreme Court of Israel dismissed the petition in a 6-5 decision consisting of 263 pages. In March 2007, the Knesset amended the law, maintained the ban on family unification and extended it to apply to citizens of Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria. These countries are all defined by Israeli law as "enemy states." This new law has also been extended by the legislature.

These laws make families in Israel insecure. Non-Israeli spouses from the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, or Syria who are allowed to stay in Israel due the 2005 exception must renew their permits every six months. Furthermore, they are not allowed to apply for citizenship. They cannot work or even drive. In contrast, individuals from other countries who marry Israelis are allowed to apply for Israeli citizenship through a five-year process.

In May 2007, Adalah, along with other regional rights organizations and a member of the Knesset, petitioned the Supreme Court of Israel demanding that the new Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law be repealed in the case of MK Zahava Galon v Attorney-General. Adalah argued that the law constitutes racial discrimination because it bars certain individuals from family unification solely on the basis of their national origin or nationality. They claimed that the law affects thousands of families. The government of Israel maintained that the law is necessary for security reasons.

Open Society Justice Initiative Involvement

The Justice Initiative provided Adalah with an expert opinion on the standards applicable in regional human rights systems in Africa, Europe and the Americas with respect to family and private life as well as non-discrimination and minority rights.


Right to Family and Private Life. The right to family and private life is recognized under international human rights law, including Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), Articles 11 and 17 of the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR), and Article 18 of the African Charter for Human and Peoples' Rights (African Charter). Any interference with family life must be for a legitimate purpose and must be a proportionate response to a specific problem.

Discrimination. Non-discrimination on the basis of ethnicity is clearly established in all regional human rights systems, and family life and unity are rights that must be respected without discrimination. Governments may not engage in racial or ethnic discrimination that harms the unity of the family.

Protection of Minority Groups. Minority groups are given special rights in international law in recognition of their vulnerability to marginalization and discrimination. Regional human rights law provides strict protections for national minorities though instruments which establish a right of family of reunification between citizens and their non-national spouses.


July 31, 2003. The Knesset enacts the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law prohibiting residency or citizenship to Palestinians from the Occupied Territories who are married to Israeli citizens.
May 14, 2006. The Israel Supreme Court denies a petition against the law in a 6-5 vote.
March 21, 2007. The Knesset passes the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law that maintains the ban and adds a denial of unification if one spouse is a resident or citizen of Lebanon, Syria, Iran, or Iraq.
May 31, 2007. Adalah files a petition with the Supreme Court of Israel demanding the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law be struck down as unconstitutional.
March 9, 2009. The Justice Initiative and other NGOs submit expert opinions to the Supreme Court of Israel.
March 15, 2009. Oral arguments made before the Supreme Court of Israel.
March 2, 2010. Oral arguments made before an expanded 11-justice panel of the Supreme Court of Israel. 
January 11, 2012. The Supreme Court of Israel decides, in a 6-5 vote, that the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law does not violate Israel’s Basic Law.


In January 2012, the Supreme Court delivered its decision. In a 6-5 vote, the petition was rejected on the basis that while the law may transgress the constitutional right to equality, any such infringement is proportional to the objectives of the law (protecting national security) and as a result the law does not violate the Basic Law of Israel. In the majority opinion, Justice Asher Grunis ruled that in Israel national security prevails over the right to family life and that “Human rights cannot be enacted at the price of national suicide.”