JERUSALEM -- Israel's parliament passed a measure Thursday that would force Palestinians who marry Israelis to live separate lives or move out of Israel. The government said the law was necessary to prevent terror attacks, but critics called it racist.
The law, to be in effect for one year, would prevent Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip who marry Israeli Arabs from obtaining residency permits in Israel.
In pushing the measure, Israel's government cited instances in which Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza have exploited their residency permits -- which grant them freedom of movement in Israel -- to carry out terror attacks.
"This law comes to address a security issue," Cabinet Minister Gideon Ezra told Israel Radio. "Since September 2000 we have seen a significant connection, in terror attacks, between Arabs from the West Bank and Gaza and Israeli Arabs."
The vote was 53 in favor, 25 against and one abstention. Israeli Arabs were outraged.
"We see this law as the implementation of the 'transfer' policy by the state of Israel," said Jafar Savah from Mossawa, an advocacy center for Israeli Arabs. He was referring to a plan by ultranationalist Jewish groups to persuade or force Israeli Arabs and Palestinians to leave for Arab countries.
Savah said the law was an attempt to legalize unofficial policy that has been in effect since September 2000, when Israeli-Palestinian violence broke out. He warned that the law would damage relations between Israel and its Arab minority.
Local and international human rights groups have condemned the law as racist.
"This is a racist law that decides who can live here according to racist criteria," said Yael Stein from the Israeli rights group B'tselem.
Two New York-based rights groups, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, sent letters to the parliament protesting the law and urging lawmakers not to pass it, a statement from Human Rights Watch said.
Israel and the Palestinians have been locked in a bloody conflict for 33 months, though a limited cease-fire declared by the Palestinians on June 29 has significantly reduced attacks against Israelis.
Arabs make up about 20 percent of Israel's population of 6 million. About 3 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Many families were divided by cease-fire lines after Mideast wars, and over the years, marriage between the two groups has been common.
Some Israelis see this as a security threat. Ezra told the radio that since 1993, more than 100,000 Palestinians have obtained Israeli permits in this manner. "It has grown out of control," he said.
However, Stein from B'tselem said there have been only 20 cases from these 100,000 people who have been involved in terror.
"I am not taking these attacks lightly, but this is an extreme solution to a marginal phenomenon," Stein said.