Israel’s High Court accepts Gisha’s petition, instructs the Ministry of Interior to register marriages between Israeli citizens and foreign nationals without delay

Wednesday, November 27, 2019. After a legal battle spanning more than four years, Israel’s High Court of Justice accepted (Hebrew) Gisha’s 2015 petition against the Ministry of Interior and ordered the state to register marriages between Israeli citizens and foreign nationals immediately upon presentation of a marriage certificate. At the time the petition was filed, Israeli population registry officers would register the marital status of Israeli citizens who married foreign nationals as pending and “under review” for a period of six months. Soon after the petition was filed, the Ministry of Interior cut the review period in half, but continued its injurious practice.

In the petition, Gisha argued that the section of the Interior Ministry’s protocol that allowed the registration of marital status as “under review” rather than “married” was unlawful, and that population registry officials should not be authorized to reject applications to change personal information when presented with official documentation such as a marriage certificate. Gisha also argued that the practice stands in violation of the rights to dignity and equality. Marriages between two Israeli citizens are registered immediately, without a waiting period. Furthermore, the instruction to register marital status as “under review” serves no purpose, given that no actual review is conducted during the six-month or three-month period, and at the end of the arbitrary waiting period, the Israeli spouse would be registered as married regardless of his or her specific circumstances.

The practice of registering the marital status of Israeli citizens who are married to foreign nationals as “under review” infringes on their rights. It constitutes a particularly egregious violation of the rights of Israeli citizens who are married to residents of the Gaza Strip. By definition, these couples are denied family unification in Israel and can only live together in Gaza or abroad. In order to enter Gaza, Israeli citizens must obtain a permit from the army, which may only be granted once the applicant’s marriage has been registered. As such, the practice of registering the Israeli spouse’s marital status as “under review” significantly delays family unification, violating freedom of movement and the right to family life.

 In the conclusion of the High Court judgment (Hebrew), Justice Hanan Melcer writes: “Once the official certificate presented by the applicant has been verified according to the authority’s protocols, and inasmuch as the certificate does not contain clear and visible flaws or (factually) erroneous information that would justify further inquiries, the registry official must record the change to the Israeli resident’s marital status regardless of whether or not their spouse is an Israeli citizen. In any event, the official is not authorized to change the marital status to ‘under review’.” The High Court issued a costs order against the state in the amount of 15,000 NIS.