Numerous Arab-Bedouin arriving at the offices of the Ministry of the Interior in Beersheba to receive any number of services, from renewing a passport to replacing lost documents, have begun experiencing an unexpected “correction”: walking in as citizens and leaving as “permanent residents.” Ministry clerks use the opportunity to change the legal status on the individual before them in the system’s database, with no explanations given and no chance to receive an explanation or file an appeal. The primary difference between being a citizen of Israel and having the status of permanent resident is that the latter cannot vote in national elections for the Knesset or obtain a passport.
However, Clause 11 of the 1952 Citizenship Law states that the Interior Minister may annul a person’s citizenship only if it was obtained based on false information and only if it was granted within the previous three years. If three years have passed, an annulment of citizenship can only be decided by a court.
The matter first came to the public’s attention in 2015, when Joint List MK Aida Touma-Sliman (Hadash) visited Arab-Bedouin villages in the Negev as chairwoman of the Knesset’s Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality. Many then told her that their citizenship had been annulled. In some families, one child was a citizen while another was only a permanent resident, this being based on the status of the parents at the time of their child’s birth.
In a meeting of the Knesset’s Internal Affairs Committee in December 2019, the Interior Ministry confirmed that such a policy in fact exists. Last week, at a second Knesset committee meeting held to examine whether such “corrections” are still being made, and Interior Ministry said that its position had not changed. Committee chairwoman Miki Haimovich retorted: “If you don’t issue a passport that means you’re canceling their citizenship. There is something twisted about people who have been citizens for years having to prove that they are citizens. These people have not broken the law.”
According to MK Touma-Sliman, “Without doubt, [in Israel] there exists deeply-rooted discrimination based on racial grounds. In the case of the Negev Arab-Bedouin, the state should first feel shame. There are nine million citizens in Israel. They must be equal and need to be related to in an equal manner.” “Nobody actually knows what ‘corrections’ have been made,” she said.
Salim al-Dantiri, an Arab-Bedouin citizen from the village of Bir Hadaj in the Negev, used to regularly vote in national elections. As a young man, he served in the Israeli army, as did his father, his brothers and his sons. Then, around 20 years ago, he visited an Interior Ministry office for a routine matter, only to be told by a clerk that he was in fact merely a permanent resident, that the citizenship he had enjoyed to date had been given “by mistake,” and that he would have to reapply for citizenship status. He did so, thus far to no avail.
Al-Dantiri is an example of what the Interior Ministry confirmed in 2016 is a policy to correct “ministry mistakes” in registration. The ministry insists that it is not revoking citizenship — that would clearly be illegal. “My entire family has citizenship except for me,” Al-Dantiri told the Knesset committee by video conference last week. “For years, I’ve been giving authorities documents from my schools, the military, the sheikh, the village — and they tell me to wait a year and then reapply. I wait a year and pay them another sum of money to file the application; then they tell me to wait two years.”
The committee instructed the Interior Ministry to provide it with the relevant written regulations or guidelines, while MK Touma-Sliman vowed to set up an alternative database of cases to check whether the Population Authority figures were correct.