The Interior Ministry has purportedly revoked the citizenship of hundreds, if not thousands, of Arab-Israeli Bedouins in the southern Negev region, instead granting them "resident" status.
The ministry’s representatives explained in a parliamentary session that the decision was being taken because in these cases citizenship was granted by mistake or to those that registered "erroneously" between 1948 and 1951.
Aida Touma-Suleiman, an Arab-Israeli legislator, called for an urgent session last year to raise concern over the move, while giving voice to the residents of Naqab, whose statuses were changed without their knowledge.
"I will not relent, either the Ministry stops the new policy and returns citizenship to the Arabs, or I will file a case with the Supreme Court," Touma-Suleiman told The Media Line.
Adalah, a legal center that supports the rights of Israel’s Arab minority, sent a letter to Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit urging them to cancel the new policy and demanding equal status for the Bedouins in question.
According to the group, the citizenship cancellations have been going on at least since 2010.
"Many Arab citizens, who had survived in their land after Nakba (the 'catastrophe' of Israel’s creation), were unable to register for citizenship due to the military rule imposed on them by the government," Touma-Suleiman explained. "In some other cases, people were not aware of the need to register at all."
"What is happening now," she continued, "is that Arabs in the southern area of Israel are applying to the ministry to renew their IDs or passports, and then, they are being informed of the revocation decision."
The stripping of citizenship, in general, is based on Israel’s 2008 "Nationality Law," which gives the courts the right to revoke citizenship in cases where there is a "doubt in loyalty to the State of Israel;" including, for instance, in the event of terrorist attacks.
Touma-Suleiman confirmed that a few individuals from the northern Arab-Israeli town of Umm al-Fahm have lost their citizenship as a result of "terrorist activities," but that this is not a scenario that applies to the Bedouins in the Negev.
In comments on Monday, an Interior Ministry spokesperson claimed that the number of people affected was inflated and that measures were being taken to rectify the situation. "The group of citizens includes about 150 people, and not 2,600," she said. "No one means to harm them. Now the ministry is asking them to legally re-register so they will remain citizens."
Speaking to The Media Line, Israeli parliamentarian for The Joint List, Dov Khenin, nevertheless slammed the Ministry’s actions and said "it has no right to revoke citizenship, which is totally against the law."
"This can only be done in the event of terror acts, and even then this is done through the courts," he concluded.
Overall, there are some 1.7 million Arabs living in Israel, approximately 20% of the total population.