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Citizenship Law in Israel,

Israeli Citizenship Law (ICL) (Hebrew: חוק האזרחות הישראלית‎) is the instrument that determines who a person is relative to Israel and whether such a person can be bestowed the status if Israeli citizenship.

The Citizenship law hangs upon two enactments; one being the Law of Return passed to law in 1950, and the other being the Citizenship Act passed 2 years later in 1952.

While the former, which has undergone 2 amendments, basically allows every Jew to return to Israel, the latter specifies the process of acquiring or losing Israeli citizenship; the Citizenship Act has undergone 13 amendments.

There are basically two citizenship principles operated in Israel: the jus sanguinis (citizenship based on origin) for the Jews and the jus soli (citizenship based on birth place) for every other person.

And then residents of Israel can also hold another status known as the permanent residency status (Hebrew: תושב קבע‎ toshav keva). 

You find it mostly amongst citizens of Syria occupying the Golan, as well as the arab East Jerusalem, and even among people of completely different descents.

A Look into the Evolution of the ICL

Here we look at the revisions and modifications the Israeli National law has undergone since May 1948 when the State was declared independent till date.

Before the Enactment of the law

Before the time in 1948 when Israel became an independent State, the area was a sectio n of Mandatory Palestine; and so were its citizen, they were made of those staying there. However that mandate ended in 1948 as Israel became a recognized State during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Being an infant State, it neither had citizenship laws nor citizens as it were. People however had ID cards or Temporary Residence permits, but no formal citizenship statuses, whether Jews or Palestinians.

As expected, the absence of such critical laws was trailed by numerous legal issues and the court’s position on the subject of citizenship sometimes seemed contradictory. Take for instance the case of what nationality former Palestinians should claim, making reference to the Public International Law, the Tel Aviv District Court declared:

"every individual who, on the day of the establishment of the State of Israel, was a resident in the territory which today constitutes the State of Israel, is also a national of Israel. Any other view must lead to the absurd result of a state without national."

Whereas some other courts adjudged that with the end of the Mandate, all former Palestinian citizens had lost their citizenship and had not acquired any other one whether by imposition. For this reason, the right to vote or voted for for the Knesset’s first two sessions (1949 and 1951) were not on the basis of nationality but on residential location.  

Enactment of the ICL and its Implications

The Knesset passed the Law of Return on July 5, 1950; it was the antecedent to the national law, which was later established. By the law “every Jew has the right to come to his country as an oleh [Jewish immigrant]”, howeve the law was silent on the matter of citizenship.

Israel’s first nationality law came in 1952 as the Citizenship act. In clear terms, the law retroactively repealed the Palestinian Citizenship Order of 1925 from the day of the State’s formation. It clearly stated the four channels by which Israeli citizenship can be gotten: By return, By place of birth, By naturalization, and By residence.

There were some controversy as to citizenship acquisition by the nasis of residence at the time. Considering that the new State of Israel succeeded the Mandatory Palestine, the law does not recognize Palestinian nationals as Israelis. It happened however that, through some other channels, Jewish and Arab residents of the mandate were recognized as citizens. As for the Jews, their citizenship came as a result of the law of Return, and as for the Arabs, the law saw them as citizens only if they

  1. Had been Palestinian nationals in the past
  2. Had registered as Israeli residents from 1949
  3. Still retained their residency registration as at 1952 when the law was being enacted
  4. Were “in Israel, or in an area which became Israel territory after the establishment of the State, from the day of the establishment of the State to the day of the coming into force of this Law, or entered Israel legally during that period.”

The idea behind these conditions was the deny citizenship to Arab residents that fled during the war in 1948 if they wanted to return, as well as to cut the number of eligible Arbs down. So many Palestinian Arabs actually left the Israeli-occupied area when the war was on; those Arabs did not possess resident registration and so were denies Israeli citizenship. These people also did not get citizenship in those Arab states that harbored them during the war, except Jordan, and they turned out being people belonging to no State.

Soon the situation degenerated to the Palestinian refuge crisis, which had a global record of being one of the most difficult and over-stretched crisis. Some people with deep knowledge of international law have put forward arguments against the ICL, claiming the the Palestinian refugees have the right to return, as the ICL was based on a “denaturalization” scheme that was out of place with international law. While about 160,000 Palestinians left the territories upon which Israel was formed, about 750,000 left. 

As the years went by, post-1948, Palestinians that had been scattered within and outside israel made back for their former residences. But because of the rigorous definition given by the court to the “by residence” channel of citizenship acquisition which gave room for only those with “unbroken” residency to become nationals, they were not granted citizenship status, however they were able to obtain permanent residency. The consequence of this was tens of thousands of Palestinians not belonging to any State.

The 50s through the 60s witnessed a number of court cases filed by Palestinians seeking a redress of the ICL and its rigorous “unfavorable” rules on citizenship by residence. The law then went through some modifications in 1980, following the settlement of some of the cases, and other channels of citizenship acquisition were listed and its effect was made retroactive to cater for these people.

Enactment of the ICL and its Implications

Who does the Law consider a Jew?

In 1962, a case arose involving a Polish Jew by the name Oswald Rufeisen, who converted to Catholicism and wished to immigrate to Israel, and the Minister of Interior. The Rufeisen v Minister of the Interior case revolved around who it was that should be referred to as a Jew legally. Note that the Law of Return indeed gave room for jews to return to Israel, however, it did not state in clear prints who it referred to as a Jew. It was the rulesd by the Supreme Court the Rufeisen had lost his right to return by virtue of the fact that he converted to a different religion. By 1970 when the Law of return was undergoing it second amendment, his ruling influenced the amendment and then a “Jew” was explicitly defined as follows:  

4B. For the purposes of this Law, “Jew” means a person who was born of a Jewish mother or has become converted to Judaism and who is not a member of another religion.

This definition, however, varied from how the law of the Jewish religion defined a Jew. By the collective body of Jewish religious laws, Halakha, provided a person is born Jewish, he remains a Jew even if he changes to another religion.

Modifications of the ICL to Accomodate relatives of Jews

The Law of Return was further modified in 1970 making it robust enough to accomodate the relatives of Jews; from their spouses, children and their spouses, to their grandchildren and their spouses, extending the same rights to them:

“The rights of a Jew under this Law and the rights of an oleh under the Nationality Law, (5712–1952), as well as the rights of an oleh under any other enactment, are also vested in a child and a grandchild of a Jew, the spouse of a Jew, the spouse of a child of a Jew and the spouse of a grandchild of a Jew, except for a person who has been a Jew and has voluntarily changed his religion.”

Israeli Supreme Court, in 1999, issued a ruling that Jews or their descendants who are associated with the practice of other religions, that are not Judaism, are not to benefit from the Law of Return and so are not “by right” allowed to return to Israel or be called “Jews”; irrespective of the position of the Halakha on the matter.

On April 16, 2008, some people presented their case in the Israeli Supreme Court, they claimed that they had Jewish father and grandfathers but their application for citizenship were truned down on the basis that they were jewish Messianics. They argued that they had never been Jews based on the Halakha, and so the conversion clause does not ecxclude them fom being nationals. Their argument prevailed in the court and the government agreed to look at their applications again.

The 1971 Nationality amendment

The third amendment of the nationality law was passed in the Knesset in 1971. Addressing citizenship by return, amendment included a fresh paragraph to Section 2 that read as follows:

(e)Where a person has expressed his desire to settle in Israel, being a person who has received, or is entitled to receive, an oleh’s visa under the Law of Return, 5710-1950, the Minister of the Interior may at his discretion, grant him, upon his application, nationality by virtue of return even before his aliya.

This amendment was largely influenced by the denial of exit visas to Soviet Jews after the 6-day war, trapping the Jews in the Soviet Union.

Unifying Palestinian Families

The Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law was enacted in 2003. The initial plan was that it would be a temporary fix, however it has since undergone a number of extensions and is even recorded in prints.

Based on the law, non-Jewish spouses of Israeli citizens from Israel’s “enemy nations” like Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, and the Palestinian territories, would not be granted citizenship on the grounds of family unification. And 9 years later in 2012, the law was still considered valid by the Israeli Supreme Court.

Note that in 1968, during the second amendment, it was added that by the decree of the Minister of Interior, one can become an Israeli citizen.

Based on international law, citizens of Israel are Israeli nationals; and so by that declaration, one can infer that since Israel has nationals, its a nationality. There is, however, an ungoing conversation around whether Isreali nationality is a concept with deeply rooted meaning. What explicitly distinguishes Israeli nationality from Jewish or Palestinian nationality?

Domestically though, citizens of Israel are not recognized as nationals but as members of ethnic groups like Jewish, Arab, Circassian, and Druze. But other nationalities like Russian, Egyptian, and Morrocan are permitted under the Israeli law. Citizens registered under these ethnic groups get their Israeli ID cards which they are expected to bear on them all the times; the card has under the feild le’om (לאום) the Hebrew word for “nationality” or “ethnic affiliation.”

Two lawsuits filed by citizens, which were turned down by the Supreme Court, requested that they get registered as “Israeli” nationals. The Human rights advocate and psychologist Georges Tamarin was the one who filed the first case asking that his nationality identification be changed from Jew to Israeli. The court ruling was a resounding “no” backed by the argument that “there is no Israeli nation separate from the Jewish people.”

Head of the I am an Israeli movement and retired computational linguist professor Uzi Ornan, in 2010, joined with some other scholars from Israel like Joseph Agassi, filed a case demanding a redress of this system with a listing of their affiliation as “Israeli”. 3 years later in 2013, the Supreme Court, apparently because of the haziness of an “Israeli nationality, turned down their request on the grounds that there is need to preserve the Jewish nature of the State of Israel.

Even though the following are not explicitly listed as national laws, they are rights possessed by citizens of Israel:

  • Political rights for Israelis allowing them to participate in politics.
  • Right to own an Israeli passport.
  • Except when limited by special warrrants, the right to travel as one wishes into and out of Israels territory.

Asides these rights, there are others that permanent residents and Israeli citizens also enjoy, like the right to cuts in taxation, right to work in Israel, right to pension at request from the social security services, as well as the right to vote so long as they abide within locally instituted authorities. While Israeli citizens can go out of Israel and return as citizens, residents do not enjoy the same luxury; they risk losing their status in the evnt that they migrate outside Israeli borders, i.e the Green Line including East Jerusalem and the Golan.  

It is required for Israeli citizens to always bear with them ther Israeli passport when out of the State; the passport is gotten mandatorily before going outside Israeli borders.

Under the Israeli law, most citizens and residents compulsorily participate military service; cetain exemptions can be made though. It is however not the case for Arab citizens of Israel and haredi Jews (ultra-Orthodox) who are completely exempted from such service.

Ways to Acquire Israeli citizenship

Here we look at the different ways by which Israeli citizenship can be acquired.

All Jews (legal definition have been provided above) have the right as granted by the Law of Return to move into Israel and claim Israeli citizenship.

By Israeli law, it is sufficiently clear that the Law of return is different from the Israeli Nationality law. While the former grants Jews and their descendants permission to return to Israel, the latter officially grants Israeli citizenship. By inference one can tell that the Law of Return does not automatically bestow citizenship, it only allows Jews return and inhabit Israeli territories permanently. It is also possible for someone who came into Israel unde the law of Return to secure Israeli citizenship if they so wished.

A Jew that is not from Israel or any descendant of such a person can move into Israel after getting the appropriate permission. The permission can however be denied if such an individual fails to meet certain requirements like clean criminal record, free of contagious disease, free of threat to the people of Israel, and others. Another thing is that when Jews return under the Law of Return to Israel, they automatically become Israeli citizens within 3 months of staying in Israel, except when they ask not to recieve it.

The citizenship act had to accomodate non-Jewish residents of the Mandatory Palestine, like the Arabs, by providing the citizenship by residence section. Residents who remained in Israel’s territory from when the State itself was established until when the ICL was enacted gained Israeli citizenship. The State of Israel had to carry out a resident’s registration in 1952 and the 80s so as to ascertain those people eligible for citizenship as provided by this citizenship by residence clause. All eligible resident obtained Israeli citizenship. This section is however not useful when considered in the light of modern Israeli citizenship.

If both or either of a child’s parent are Israeli, then the child is Israeli by default; even if the child is born outside Israel of the first generation. The child is considered an Israeli citizen if both parents or a parent is a ctizen either by naturalization, under the law of Return, by birth, or by residence.

Citizenship by descent has its limitations however. On the basis of jus sanguinis, descent only goes as far as one generation; beyond one generation, a child born abroad is not considered a citizen of Israel automatically. The person brn abroad can still acquire citizenship through other means, like by the Law of Return.

The ICL was underwent a 6th amendment in 1996 allowing for Israeli citizenship by adoption. If a child, originally not of Israeli descent, is adopted under the Israeli law, he automatically acquires Israeli citizenship by virtue of adoption. If the child is adopted outside Israel by citizens of Israel who do not stay in Israel, the child can become a citizen but not without the consent of both parents adopting the child.

Citizenship can also be acquired by adults by naturalization. A prospective seeker of Israeli citizenship under this channel must meet the following requirements:

  • Must have spent 3 of the last 5 years in israel
  • Would have to be a permanent resident within Israeli territory
  • Would have to terminate any previous citizenship
  • And would swear an oath of citizenship, that reads as follows:

 

“I declare that I will be a loyal national of the State of Israel.”

A bill was proposed in 2010, howeve, to modify the words of the oath to read as:

“I swear that I will be a loyal citizen to the state of Israel, as a Jewish and democratic state, and will uphold its laws.”

The bill failed to make it to enactment stage as a larger portion of Knesset members did not support it. 

Although no language tests are used, it was required that some fundamental knowledge of Hebrew be part of the application; there was no such requirement for Arabic.

The Minister of Interior is responsible for declaing and approving requests of citizenship by naturalization.

Normally, under the Law of Return, a non-Israeli spouse of a Jewsih Israeli citizen has Israeli citizenship. In 1999, the practice was suspended because of concerns bothering aound immigration when it happens that the Jewish spouse becmae a citizen by birth or Aliyah.

The right of naturalization by mariage of a non-israeli spouse who inhabits the Palestinian area was suspended by the Ctizenship and Entry into Israel Law of 2003. The suspension has been extended severally, and the last time was in 2016. The suspension was mostly influenced by how some West bank militants leveraged the practice to garner all privileges due a citizen, and particularly accessibility.

Based on section 4A of the ICL, if anyone is born, post-formation of the Israeli State, on Israeli territory, such a person would be a citizen provided:

  • He/She has never possessed another citizenship.
  • They apply between their 18th and 21st birthday.
  • They had continuously lived in Israel for 5 years prior to when they submit their application.

The following is the process involved when getting citizenship by blood:

  • The parent(s), who are Israelis, must go to the Ministry of Interior with the child’s original birth certificate which clearly veifies that they are the child’s parent.
  • The Israeli parent(s) must also pesent their ID cards or their Israeli passport, as well as the child’s foreign passport.
  • Both parent(s) must be physically present if they did not register their marriage with the Ministry of Interior or Foreign Affairs or if they are altogether not married.
  • Upon complete verification, the child would get an identity number as well as an Isaeli passport. And the child would also get an ID card if he/she is 16 years or above.

It is imperative that to bear in mind that because of how Israel associate state and religion, there are certain clauses to the citizenship. The child, for instance, can not be registered as a Jew if the mother is not; the child can not even marry a Jewish person in Israel without first formally undertaking an Orthodox conversion to Judaism. On the other hand, if the mother of a child is a Jew based on Orthodox standards, then the child is registered as a Jew by default.

Renouncing Israeli citizenship

Situations arise in which a state goes on to initiate the termination of an Israeli citizen’s citizenship. Three such situations were established by Article 11 of the Israeli National Law. They are:

  • If such a person acquired citizenship of a Israeli enemy state or even entered such a state.
  • If such a person committed an act that breached his or her loyalty to Israel
  • If such a person’s citizenship was ill-gotten or obtained on the basis of falsified data. Under such circumstances, even the citizenship of the person’s children might also be revoked.

On the issue of citizenship gotten by presenting false data, it rests on the authority of the Minister of Interior to terminate their citizenship within 3 yeas of obtaining it. However, the Minister of Interior would need to get permission from an administrative court in order to cancel any citizenship that has been acquired for over 3 years.

Following 2008 amendment made to the 1952 Nationality Law, the following 9 states, and the Gaza Strip, were declared as enemies of the israeli state: Libya, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

Based on Article 10 of the ICL, an Israeli citizen staying overseas can file an application with the Israeli embassy to renounce their Israeli citizenship. The Administration of Border Crossings, Population and Immigration, which acts in place of the Minister of Interior, gets and looks at the application, then goes on to determine whether to approve or deny the application. There are a number of reasons for which the request can be rejected; from the inability to provide evidence of another state’s citizenship, to compulsory military obligation, etc.

Statistics from the Population and Immigration Authority shows that, within the year 2003 to 2015, 8,308 citizens of Israel terminated their citizenship.

Considerations around dual citizenship

Israeli citizens are permitted by Israel’s laws to hold multiple ctizenship. Being a dual citizen as a national, one still gets every entitlement due an Israeli citizen; from freedom to enter Israeli border without a visa, take part in work or commercial activities within the law, to staying in Israel as one wishes

There are however two exceptions situations in which dual citizenship can not work:

  • By a law included in the Basic Law: the Knesset (Article 16A), members of Knesset must not revoke any citizenship to any other state before pledging allegiance to the State of Israel.
  • In the cae of obtaining citizenship by naturalization, such a person is equired to renounce other citizenships they must have had.

Just like every other Israeli citizen, a person who holds dual citizenship is still expected to partake in mandatory military service, and is not taken as a foreign citizen by the Israeli Security Service Law.  and is subject to a mandatory military service according to that law. 

Such a person is taken as a citizen regarding the criminal liability of Israeli civilians as described by the Israeli Penal Law; and therefore does not have the entitlement to consular access by a representative of the other country. Based on Israel’s law of personal status, such a person is taken as a citizen.

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