Civil Rights, or Lack Thereof.

Living in this democratic country called Canada, we are all guaranteed governmental protection, public health care, access to free education and a little thing we like to call civil and political rights. Of course, these are considered privileges – privileges we are able to keep if we pay our dues to the government, by paying taxes and upholding Canadian law. Included in these civil and political rights are the right to freedom of speech, of thought, of religion and many more. We can speak out against our government due to the very nature of the country’s democratic character.

I’ve always wondered where these rights end. When does my right to speak and be free in Canada triumph other rights I may have, if that’s possible? My right to freedom does not allow me to negate others’ rights to protection. There is a limit, and it’s easy to hit it.

When I visited the Israeli consulate last Friday to get a student visa so I can study in Israel this semester, I was told that I did not qualify for a visa – after all, how could they give me a visa to a country I was already a citizen of? Apparently, since my dad left Lebanon during the Muslim-Christian civil war in 1975, fleeing to Israel, he had made aliyah. He stayed for only a short period of time and immigrated to Canada where he now lives. Despite being born and raised in Canada, and never having lived in Israel for more than a month, I am considered Israeli by the sheer virtue of my father’s decision (although truthfully, he really did not even know he was making aliyah. He only intended to leave a war and start a new life and never really planned to stay in Israel that long). I was a little shocked when they handed me army exemption papers and told me I had to settle my army status right away. Would they even be allowed to draft me into the army – a girl who has never even lived in Israel but is considered an Israeli citizen born abroad?

I tried to refuse my Israeli citizenship. I told them I had no desire to be an Israeli citizen at this point in my life but apparently, that doesn’t matter. I am Israeli, whether I like it or not, according to Israeli citizenship laws. My kids, however, won’t be Israeli – this rule only applies to the first generation, my dad’s next of kin.

It’s not that I’m not proud of Israel. Israel has done many wonderful things for the world and the majority of technology that we spend our days using were probably developed in Israel. However, I don’t want the hassles that come with Israeli citizenship. I want to travel to Arab countries without worrying they will find out I am also Israeli. I want to work in politics without being immediately labeled as biased because of my half-citizenship. And I don’t want to worry about figuring out my military status.

I believe I have the right to choose my own citizenship. Had I been born in Israel, I wouldn’t be able to claim this right. But I wasn’t. I have lived at the same address for the past twenty years of my life and my father has only lived in Israel for maybe a maximum of two years. These details should automatically render my ‘citizenship’ meaningless. How can they claim I’m a citizen for a country I’ve only visited twice?

It’s an interesting aspect of Israeli law and I’m personally curious as to why it is so. Why is it that Israel wishes to claim people like me are citizens of Israel? Is there some benefit for them to increase the number of citizens they can claim to have?

So as of now, I’m not signing up for an Israeli passport. They can claim to force it on me, but I’m pretty sure they need my signature to process that document. I’ll let you know what happens when I get to customs.

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