“Stripping Citizenship” Story Series: “The Father is in the Drawer”

For the next five days the Arab Association for Human Rights (HRA) will be publishing the contents of its newest report, “Stripping Citizenship”, in serialized updates here and on our website. These stories were reported and written by Samih Ganadri and edited internally  by the HRA. Today, we begin by publishing the first of five personal stories which explore the different effects of that law. Each story intends to display the human consequences of the discriminatory legislation and to show you reality of an often underrepresented minority.

To see yesterday’s post including relevant background information and the preface to the report, click here.

So, without further delay, we present the first story of “Stripping Citizenship”.

Jaffa: “The father is in the drawer” …

Nellie Abu Qa’od is from a native Jaffa family. “My great-great-grandfather, generations ago, was born and lived in Jaffa. I did not immigrate to Israel; I stayed in my country when Israel was created, so I became an Israeli citizen.” Nellie is married to Samir Kallab, a Palestinian like herself, “but he is from Khan Younis camp in the Occupied Gaza Strip, which has been occupied since June 1967”. In 2001, they met and got married in Jaffa and have two children; Latifa, born in 2002, and Ali, in 2003.

The Kallab family also originates from Jaffa, however the family was displaced in 1948 during the Nakba and they settled in Gaza. When he was 12 years old and the roads between Jaffa and Gaza were open, Samir came to work in Jaffa with his older brothers. He grew up in Jaffa, where he met Nellie and they fell in love. They got married and lived together in Jaffa.

In the beginning of 2004, the Israeli authorities arrested Samir, and expelled him to Gaza. “They took him away from me and from our two children and dumped him in Gaza…” says Nellie. Just like that, because at the time, the ‘Citizenship and Entry into Israel law, Amendment No.1’ was issued. “I am a citizen, but my husband was no longer a citizen, he had become an “intruder”, an illegal resident in his own home with his family and children”, says the wife with amazement.

When the police arrested Samir, Nellie was ill with breast cancer, and their youngest son, Ali, was four months old. Flooded with a sense of “humanity”, the authorities decided to arrest Samir for six months, after which, the judge, also flooded with “humanity”, decided to put him under house arrest. His wife was sick, no one knew whether she would recover, and they had two children. A yearlong detention and house arrest, in preparation for deportation to Gaza, for a husband with a wife who is a citizen, a mother of two children, and battling cancer; this was the embodiment of the exception to the law, “for humanitarian reasons”.

It is as if the State’s conception of “justice” was to allot a year of waiting for either the wife’s death to deport the husband and his two children to Gaza, or the wife’s recovery to deport the husband and separate him from his family. In this case, Nellie would be forced to choose between being with her family in Gaza, and retaining her citizenship and residency rights in Israel.

Four months after he began his time under house arrest, Samir was caught by the police violating the terms of his sentence. They “dumped” him in Gaza.  Samir has been living in Gaza ever since. That is eight years (as of May 2012) that he has spent away from his family. The mother and her children are in Jaffa, and their father is in Gaza. All their attempts to reunite have failed. In Israel today, breaking a family up, separating a wife from her husband, and children from their father is not “humanitarian” enough to give the husband citizenship, temporary residence, or even the right to visit his family for a few hours, once a year.

“Write, write this… Let all human rights organizations and countries of the world know our tragedy.” says Nellie breaking down, as she sees me write down her words. She continues, “I ask them to visit us, to come and live with us for a week, for a day.” Maybe they will find an answer to why she and her children are sentenced to live without a husband and father. They feel like a “widow and orphans” to a husband and father who is still alive and lives only a few hours away. Maybe they will also find an answer for the children, who ask why their refrigerator is almost empty on a daily basis, why they wake up to the suppressed sound of their mother’s sighing, why their neighbor, Michael, lives with his wife, Katia, and plays with his children, taking them to the beach to swim, while their father is in Gaza and is prohibited from living with them.

I met Nellie and her children in a public park near the beach, the same beach where she met Samir, 12 years ago. I noticed that there were two more girls with her, other than Latifa and Ali. The older one, Raqiya, is two years old, and the younger one, Mina, is four months old.

I didn’t ask Nellie about the two girls, but she noticed my awkwardness, so she started talking, “I brought them from Gaza…”

Nellie can visit her husband in Khan Younis, but she has to go through a long and painful procedure to get a permit. She wants to see her husband, and let Latifa and Ali, as they are growing, to get to know their father, and let their father get to know them as well. When she finally got the permit, she returned from Gaza pregnant with Raqiya.

Since her husband was forbidden from visiting her during her last weeks of pregnancy and from being at his daughter’s birth, Nellie decided to visit Gaza to introduce her husband to his newborn baby.  She returned from this second visit, pregnant with Mina. Now, Nellie wants to apply for a permit to travel to Gaza for a third time, “I want him to see our daughter, Mina, who looks like him”.

I asked her if he had applied for a permit to visit to see Mina. Nellie answered, “He did and the Israeli authorities refused his request. Today, he is imprisoned in Gaza. Thank God.  That is better than being killed by soldiers on the border.”

When Samir’s request to enter the country was denied, he tried to sneak across the border from Egypt but was caught by Egyptian soldiers before he made it to the Israeli border, and sent back to Gaza. The authorities in Gaza arrested and imprisoned him, as they suspected him of either illicit smuggling, or being an Israeli agent.

I was able to call Samir in his prison in Gaza. He will be released soon. It appears that the authorities there are almost sure of the validity of his story.  I asked him about his wife, Nellie, and his children. I felt that he was envious of me, a stranger, for being able to see his wife and children, while he was unable to. He wanted me to accurately describe to him his newborn baby, Mina, whom he has never seen. I told him that his wife said Mina looks just like him. She is teaching her to say “Baba” (Arabic for Dad), and she shows her his picture while teaching her…

There was a long terrible silence on the other side of the line, cut by a repressed rattle. “Baba… picture”, Samir raised his voice and burst: “Do the Jews and the world know how an Arab Palestinian recognizes his father? How an Arab seeing his child is a security risk, how a husband and wife living together with their children as a family… is an act of terrorism threatening the state? How long will the world be silent? I lived in Jaffa for 12 years without committing any security violations. I got married before this damned law was issued, what fault or mistake have I committed in my life? Or is it that my only fault is that I was born an Arab, and I love and married an Arab Palestinian woman with Israeli citizenship? What is the children’s fault?! Should I become a Jew to live with my family? Will Israel even accept my conversion to Judaism?”

Nellie and her four children live in an apartment with two small rooms and a small corner kitchen. It is not really an apartment, but a former dentist’s clinic, which she rented and turned into an apartment. Because of her fight with cancer, she doesn’t work, and she lives in poverty, relying on ‘national insurance’ benefits, the majority of which she spends on rent, electricity, water and gas bills. What little is left is spent on food, clothing and education for her four children. She doesn’t send her three-year-old daughter, Raqiya, to a nursery, as she cannot afford the monthly payments. Her neighbors gave her a used baby stroller for her fourth child, Mina, to sit in, and also to sleep in. The five family members sleep in one small room.

Nellie asks her four children, who are huddled around her to go play away from us; after they are gone, she bursts into tears and says; “The children are growing up. They ask about their father, why isn’t he living with them, why can’t they buy everything they need like the other children? The opening of the school year is a happy day for people, but for me, it is a tragic day, which every year I hope will be delayed. Because, how can I manage financially, and buy books, school bags, and stationery for Latifa and Ali? Even the holidays are a tragedy and a disaster. I no longer participate in my family’s holiday celebrations, what food would I take? What about my children, seeing their relatives wearing new clothes, and boasting about their holiday presents from their parents. Children growing up in constant need, without a father, without new clothes and toys, without holidays… What will their fate be?” Nellie was weeping; two large tears fell on her cheeks.

Nellie was distressed, so I looked away and saw her son, Ali, leaning against a tree trunk in the garden, watching a group of children eating ice cream and playing with their toys.  I walked over to him, and offered to buy him an ice cream; he refused, but I insisted and we started to talk:

– Ali, do you speak with your father?

  • Yes, I speak to him daily, in the morning and in the evening.

– About what?

  • I ask him how he’s doing, I talk to him about school and my sisters and mama, I also tell him what I want him to bring me when he comes back to live with us.

– You talk to him on the phone, of course.

  • No, I talk to him through the “Jarrar”, but I am sure Baba hears me.

I was stunned. When we got back, I asked his mother about the “Jarrar” which Ali uses to speak to his father, she was also shocked. She explained to me that “Jarrar” in the Jaffa dialect, is a drawer. In their bedroom is a mirror with a drawer underneath and inside it is a picture of his father. “Now I understand why I always find the drawer open when I come into the bedroom”, said Nellie.

Before I left, I heard Nellie calling me back for one more thing: “Sir, Sir, I forgot to tell you that our neighbor Katia is a Jew, who came to the country from Russia 12 years ago. She got her citizenship in the airport when she arrived. Nine years ago, she traveled to the United States, where she met Michael, an American who is not Jewish. They got married and moved back here and Michael became a citizen too.”

Look for the second story in our series tomorrow and keep up with the HRA online! Check out our website. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

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4 thoughts on ““Stripping Citizenship” Story Series: “The Father is in the Drawer”

  1. Pingback: “Stripping Citizenship” Story Series #2: “Is There an End to this Displacement?” | Arab Association for Human Rights

  2. Pingback: “Stripping Citizenship” Story Series #3: “My Wildest Dream” | Arab Association for Human Rights

  3. Pingback: “Stripping Citizenship” Story Series #4: “The Hidden… The Present… The Family of the Dead… The Living ” | Arab Association for Human Rights

  4. Pingback: “Stripping Citizenship” Story Series #5: “Love in the Time of Apartheid” | Arab Association for Human Rights

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