The Privilege of Marrying in Israel
Palestinian couples face bigger problems than seating charts and flower arrangements if they want to marry in Israel.
At Taiseer and Lana Khatib's wedding in 2004, the bride wore white, and the groom a three-piece tuxedo.
Cake was had, and many of the couple's family members and friends attended to celebrate their whirlwind romance, which Taiseer says was love at first sight – as cliché as that might sound.
In 2003, he made the four-hour drive from Acre in northern Israel to Jenin, a city in the West Bank where Lana worked at a refugee health center, to gather materials for an upcoming PhD program in Canada.
"I started mumbling, and she noticed that, and I asked her about everything except what I actually came to ask her about," Taiseer says of his first encounter with Lana.
But their road to the altar and departure into happy matrimony was riddled with potholes.
"For the first period of our marriage, Lana was an illegal person," Taiseer explains.
A tricky institution to navigate anywhere, marriage is especially mind-boggling in Israel. A hangover from Ottoman times, marriages in Israel are non-secular, meaning leaders from predominant religious communities act as state-sanctioned gatekeepers for marriage and all the institutional privileges that come with it.
In practice, interfaith marriages aren't allowed. Neither are same-sex unions, nor those deemed taboo by some religious standards, like marriage between a Jewish man and a converted woman, or a widower hoping to remarry. Even Protestants can't officially tie the knot, as the denomination has no recognized religious leadership within Israel.
“BECAUSE OF THE SOCIAL PRESSURE, SHE HID IN HER HOME FOR TWO WEEKS.”
Supporters of the current structure say it helps preserve religious tradition and harmony in increasingly secular times.
But these restrictions are instead sparking a groundswell of non-traditional unions. A string of court cases over the years has provided couples strong legal standing in establishing "common law" marriages. Guaranteed equal protection under the law, couples can sue for marital privileges like inheritance and alimony if they can prove they share a household and have a romantic relationship with their partner.
It's why more couples are visiting Irit Rosenblum, founder of the New Family Law Center, a law firm in Tel Aviv that specializes in marital rights. Over the years, Rosenblum has carved out a loophole in Israeli law that allows her firm to issue so-called Domestic Union Cards, a signed affidavit between partners that can be leveraged to petition for the same rights as married couples.
"They love each other and are a family, but they do it without any outside influence from the state," says Rosenblum. "They confirm their existence as a loving couple, and the state must recognize that, despite the religious restrictions."
But for couples like Taiseer and Lana, even the most impressive judicial acrobatics can't surmount the Israeli state's highest legal hurdles.
As a resident of the West Bank, Lana has to navigate complicated bureaucracy to even be able to travel to Israel. Though she and Taiseer were granted the right to marry in Israel because both are Muslim, Lana had to authorize Taiseer's brother to sign their marriage certificate in her place because she couldn't travel to Acre.
For the wedding itself, Lana was only granted a one-day visa to enter the country, presenting difficulties for the new bride when she returned to Jenin so quickly after her nuptials.
"For Palestinians, going home just days after your wedding is a sign of impurity," Taiseer explains. "Because of the social pressure, she hid in her home for two weeks."
Things didn't get easier thereafter. A 2003 law prevents Palestinians from becoming Israeli citizens through their spouses due to security considerations. So despite being married and having three children, Lana has lived in Acre either illegally or on monthly visas for the past 12 years.
She can only work if an employer sponsors her papers, and she's barred from driving, placing crippling psychological and economic pressure on the family.
"Imagine us as a handicapped couple," Taiseer explains. "She can only move if I'm there with her."
"I have the opportunity to pack up and just disappear, but …This is our homeland."
While the Israeli judicial system has gradually allowed for some form of civil unions to take root in the country, Rosenblum says that it's highly unlikely that couples like Taiseer and Lana will see their situation improve any time soon.
"They say it's a political problem and a defense problem, not a marriage issue," she says. "Israel will not allow reunification because they don't want them to move to Israel. It doesn't matter if they're married."
Taiseer says he's lost hope that he and Lana will one day be able to live with more stability in his homeland. A new "nation-state" law passed in 2018 declares that “the right to exercise national self-determination” in Israel is “unique to the Jewish people."
"I'm Palestinian with Israeli citizenship – now what status do I have in this state?" Taiseer asks.
Taiseer acknowledges that things might be easier for the family abroad, perhaps in Germany or Canada, where Taiseer studied in the past.
"I have the opportunity to pack up and just disappear, but we aren't doing this," he protests. "This is our homeland."
"As a family, we're paying a huge price but we'll keep it," he adds. "We will keep up the fight."
Israel is a tiny country packed with diverse people and polarizing beliefs. That can spark tensions, but also create incredible love stories.
In LURE’s Issue 10 “Make Love Not War,” we explore the unique ways Israeli couples of all walks of life express their love. Check out more from Issue 10 below, including our newest original film“Love In Israel.” And be sure to discover more stories of love in Israel on our Instagram.