“Stripping Citizenship” Story Series #5: “Love in the Time of Apartheid”

All this week the Arab Association for Human Rights (HRA) has been 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. Each story intends to display the human consequences of the discriminatory legislation and to show you reality of an often underrepresented minority.  This fifth installment marks the end of our series.

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

So, without further delay, we present the fifth and final story of “Stripping Citizenship”:

Love in the Time of Apartheid

Tayseer Khateeb is a young man from Acre, born in 1973.  In 2002, he visited the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank in order to gather information for his PhD studies about the identity of Palestinian refugees.  He had completed his Masters degree in Anthropology at a German university, and had received a scholarship from a Canadian university for his doctoral studies. Officials in Jenin directed him to the Ministry of Health office, where he met the staff member in charge, Lana Khateeb, who was born in 1978.

What happened between them was like a magnetic field. “I was drawn to her” says Tayseer; “I was drawn to him” says Lana.  Tayseer had planned on returning to the office in Jenin in a week to collect the information that the “staff member” was preparing for him, but he was back the next day. Tayseer said he had returned “not only for the information,” while Lana said, “I was surprised to see him the next day, but I was waiting and expecting it.” I met with each of them separately.

Love in a time of war

His visits continued. Despite the barriers, their love and affection grew deeper, and even while the Jenin camp was, at the time, under a violent military invasion, aimed at striking the resistance to the occupation. They decided to get engaged. At first, Lana’s parents were reluctant to agree to this relationship, because they were concerned for their daughter’s fate. She would have to go to Canada, where Tayseer was continuing his academic studies. Would they return after he graduated? If they did return, who would ensure Lana’s citizenship in Israel? At the time, Amendment No. 1 of the Citizenship Law, which would prevent this, had been issued.

“A love that no barriers, military rifles or laws could prevent,” says Tayseer. He adds, “There is no law in the entire world that can prevent and forbid love.”  It has been ten years since the amendment was issued, and “Palestinian Arabs, on both sides of the border, are continuing to fall in love and get married” said Lana when we met in March 2012. Lana’s family in Jenin is educated, intellectual and progressive, and Lana graduated from university with a degree in business administration. They got engaged with their parents’ blessing in 2003. Tayseer traveled to Canada on his own, planning to return in six months to get married and take his wife back with him. Then, Tayseer’s mother became severely ill, needing to spend days at a time in the hospital. Because Tayseer’s father had died and he was an only child, he returned to Acre to be with his mother.

While Tayseer stopped his PhD studies, his relationship with Lana continued and became even more serious. For months, he spent his time traveling between his ill mother in the hospitals and nursing homes, and crossing checkpoints and traveling on rugged bypass roads to visit his beloved who was besieged in Jenin. How could he marry her and bring her to Acre? Particularly since the occupation only understands the language of the rifle. The law does not understand the language of human communication as it legislates with the language of separation and division.

In 2005, Tayseer found the solution to their problem by taking advantage of a loophole in the law, which allows first degree relatives to visit their family in exceptional cases, such as a serious illness. Tayseer’s mother was very sick. Lana was his fiancée, as they had gotten engaged before he had gone to Canada.  Thus, Lana and her mother were able to get a permit to visit Tayseer’s mother for two days. Lana came to Acre and through advance planning, the wedding hall was ready, and they had their wedding.

The morning after the wedding, the bride left her husband’s house in Acre and returned to Jenin. Tayseer smiles as he is telling me this story, and says: “Where in the world would you find a married couple who got married in the evening and are forced to part ways the next day? Anyway, it is better than her staying with me and finding herself in prison, on the second night of her wedding.”

Over the next eight months, Tayseer visited his wife in Jenin on a weekly basis. Lana could visit her husband in Acre once a month and only for a day or two, depending on the “mercy” of the security forces, and by proving that Tayseer’s mother is still very ill. A wife visiting her husband in their home is not a humanitarian issue that requires violating the law that prohibits people from a “hostile state” from entering Israel.

However, Tayseer is an academic intellectual, and a brave man who does not give up. He took advantage of another loophole in the law, which authorizes the examination of reunification requests (not approval, just consideration) if the wife is older than 25 years old.  He enlisted all his abilities and awareness of his rights, as well as the local and international media, and declared a “war” on the Israeli state and its laws.

Israel, a superpower, is waging a war on a husband and wife, aimed at preventing them from living together. Israel started this war. “We will not surrender nor give up on our right to fight back, to wage a peaceful, empirical and legal war in order to ensure our family’s well-being. We will see who will win.” says Tayseer. Then he adds, “Israel has even distorted our language and our conception. We talk about a war, about battles, victory and defeat while the entire issue is about a wife’s right to sleep next to her husband, to live in her own home. This is reality, not reason. I doubt whether Eugène Ionesco could have imagined or created such absurdity in his literature of the absurd”.

Lana recalls her fleeting visits to Acre to see her husband. She tells me bitter stories of crossing the borders each time, and about one specific incident that happened in Acre. Tayseer’s car had broken down when he needed to bring Lana home on the second day of her visit (in accordance with the duration of the permit). Lana had to stay for an additional day, while Tayseer went to fix the car. While she was at home, she heard a knock at the door; she was not expecting anyone, other than the security forces. Her heart started racing and she began to sweat. She ran into the closet and hid there.  She heard the apartment door opening, and footsteps walking throughout the house and coming towards the closet. She felt suffocated; they would now take her to prison and then back to Jenin. She would not see her husband again after today, and all her hopes of getting temporary residence were ending. Her file would now be tainted with a serious “criminal security” violation, which was remaining in her marital home a few more hours than was allowed. She was suffocating and felt she would die; she lost consciousness, and when she woke up, there was no one in the house. Later, she found out that those who had entered her house were Tayseer’s friends who had come to visit.

In most cases of marriage between Arabs from the Occupied Territories and Arab citizens of Israel, the husband is usually from the Occupied Territories. However, in this case, Tayseer is the citizen. For that reason they cannot presume that he got married in order to live in Israel, or to carry out sabotage, or any other security violation in Israel. Despite these facts, the Israeli authorities refuse to give his wife Israeli citizenship or even temporary residence.

However, Tayseer succeeded in winning his “war” on Israel. In 2006, he secured the right of temporary residence for his wife from the clutches of the Israeli authorities. This temporary residence needs to be renewed annually. Each year, and for three months before the temporary residence expires, the family goes through a painstaking “battle” of reviews and submission of papers. They have to bear the rudeness and intrusion of security personnel into their personal and private affairs, in addition to the disgraceful offers of a relief from state policy in exchange for betraying their family’s national dignity and patriotism. At times it reaches the point where a security officer advises Lana to divorce her husband. These months of grief finally ended with the “victory” for the couple. They won the right to continue to live together, at least temporarily, for another year. That was their situation until today, April 2012.

Tayseer returned to his PhD studies at Haifa University.  His dissertation was on “Identity”.  He now works as a lecturer in the Western Galilee College in Acre, teaching Arab and Jewish students. He also works as a “creative writing” coach in the Jenin Theater. His wife, Lana, lives with him (always temporarily), and they are raising their two children together; their older son, Adnan, who was born in 2007, and their younger daughter, Yusra, who was born in 2008.

Tayseer is constantly busy with his work, his studies and his social democratic activities, to the end of securing full citizenship for his wife. As he is the only provider for the family, the expense of dealing with these issues affects their household financial capacities, but he doesn’t complain. What worries and bothers their family is securing citizenship for Lana, his wife and the mother of his children.

The issue of citizenship constantly concerns Lana; every year, she is fearful they will refuse to renew her temporary residence. Not only that, she says that, in general, when people read about the problem of family reunification, the first thing they think of is the possibility of banishing the spouse. However, the reality is much more complicated and complex; the lives of the entire family changes, as they are tested financially, socially and psychologically. She and her children are always weighed down by the absence of permanent citizenship, because of this racism and discrimination that reaches the extent of apartheid.

Lana, like other spouses, does not have an Israeli ID because she is a temporary resident, which means that she is deprived from the right to work, drive a car, or have social and health insurance. She is “absent”, while “present” in Israel. She is temporary. She is incomplete. She is just someone’s wife. She has no free personal entity that gives her the right to work, be active, productive and a self-fulfilling member in society. This has a social and psychological impact on her, her husband, and their children.

In Jenin, in a somewhat conservative society, which is under occupation and the siege and bombardment of Israel’s Apache helicopters and buzzing bullets, Lana was a free and independent single woman. She used to work, drive her car, and be socially active. She planned to build a career and earn a higher academic degree. Lana says; “Here I am, in my home in Acre with my husband, a prisoner in my own home. I am confined in the house, despite the fact that I am an ambitious person, I have my goals, I have an academic degree, I want to work and be fulfilled. I want to contribute to the household expenses, and the raising of my children. Even our children are affected by the tense atmosphere in which they live as a result of my temporary residence.”

I met the two children, Adnan and Yusra. They love to travel to Jenin and visit their maternal uncles, cousins, and grandmother. Their father Tayseer is an only child, so they do not have any paternal uncles or aunts, and Tayseer’s mother, their grandmother, is in a nursing home. In spite of this, the children are afraid of going to Jenin with their parents. Adnan says, “The policeman, who has a gun, takes my mother from the car.” Yusra says, “I am scared; the policeman doesn’t take us with my mother. He takes her on her own, and I start to cry.”

Tayseer tells me that the security forces at the Jenin checkpoint always take his wife and her bags to a side room, because she does not have an Israeli ID.  He and the children wait for her in the car. His wife is subjected to a humiliating search, and even a more degrading interrogation. She is sometimes gone for a long time, and the children start to cry. How can you explain to them the reason why the police, who are heavily armed with guns, only take their mother? How can you assure them that she will return to them?

Tayseer and Lana have to traverse a painful, bitter and humiliating road, with their scared and crying children in order to visit her family.  Lana’s family lives in Jenin, and like all the people living in the Occupied Territories, are barred from entering Israel. However, for Tayseer’s family, just like other Arab families, it would be inconceivable not to stay in touch with family and relatives, despite the checkpoints and difficulties. Lana says, “Although Jenin is only 50 km away from Acre, my family is forbidden to visit me, and I am forced to cross painful and bitter miles in order to see them.”

Tayseer said to me: “Our problem now is our children. As they grow older, the tragedy grows bigger. The latest media hype about the amendment to the Citizenship Law, in addition to the media’s visits to our house, and the conversations we share, has aroused Adnan’s and Yusra’s attention. I do not know what they have heard or understood, but they are getting more and more attached to their mother. It’s like an illness. When they are at home, they never leave her alone even for one second. They follow her around the house, clinging to her clothes, and when she sits, they sit in her lap and hold her hand.  I think they understand that someone evil is trying to steal their mother away from them. Yusra used to love to go to kindergarten, but now she cries when we wake her up in the morning. She does not stop crying unless her mother goes with her. At the kindergarten’s door, she screams and cries because her mother is going to leave her alone. When she sees her mother at noon coming to pick her up, she jumps with joy, can’t stop talking and hangs on to her mother hugging and kissing her.”

In one of the recent demonstrations to protest the Citizenship Law’s amendments and their codification by the Supreme Court of Justice, I watched Lana as she was shouting, and giving statements to the media about herself and her husband. She said, “Palestine is my homeland, and we did not extort Jewish land, nor visited them against their will. Israel is the one who usurped our lands, and “visited” us against our will and without permission. Acre is my town and my home, this is my husband, and those are my children. There is no law in the world that can change these facts, nor prohibit the love between members of the same nation. If you meet me outside the borders, I shall return.  I am originally from Saffuriyya village; you expelled my father from Saffuriyya in 1948. Today, I will not let you expel me from my home and keep me away from my husband.”

Lana has broken the barrier of fear, and she is no longer hiding in the closet anymore, Tayseer whispered to me and said, “I am originally from “Al Manshiyya” and “Mia’ar” villages.  If Israel wants to deport us to Jenin in order to keep our family together, we will tell them that we will not leave Acre, the town which has become our home, unless we return to “Al Manshiyya”, or “Mia’ar”, or “Saffuriyya”. Will Israel accept this trade-off?!”

Tayseer’s family is not originally from Acre, nor is Lana’s family originally from Jenin. Tayseer’s family took “refuge” in Acre; his mother was displaced from Al Manshiyya village, and his father from Mia’ar. Both villages were destroyed by the Jewish forces and their people expelled during the Nakba in 1948. Lana’s father and many of her relatives in Jenin are refugees from the village of Saffuriyya, near Nazareth, which was also destroyed during the Nakba. Israel has built a settlement called “Tzipori” on the remains of the village, in order to hide the evidence of their crime, and to accommodate the new Jewish immigrants from around the world, who enjoy the right of citizenship on the ruins of the Arab village.

A refugee in his homeland, whose parents are also both refugees, meets a refugee, a daughter of a refugee family in the Jenin refugee camp. They fall in love, get married, have two children, but still they continue on being refugees. There are still barriers and walls preventing members of one family, one nation, to unite. Tayseer’s and Lana’s only fault is that they were born as Arab Palestinians in their homeland.

Will the world believe this unrealistic and absurd reality? The world believed the fictional story: “Love in the time of Cholera” by the writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  So why won’t they believe this real story of Tayseer, Lana and their children Adnan, and Yusra? This story’s heroes are alive. They are the victim, the witness, the novel, and the narrator. Their novel is called: “Love in the time of the Apartheid.”

– – –

For relevant background information and the preface to the report, click here.

To read the first story in our series “The Father is in the Drawer”, click here.

To read the second story in our series “Is there an end to this displacement”, click here.

To read the third story in our series “My Wildest Dream”, click here.

To read the fourth story in our series “The Hidden… The Present … The Family of the Dead… The Living”, click here.

“Stripping Citizenship was reported and written by Samih Ganadri. It was edited and published internally by the Arab Association for Human Rights.  If you would like a physical copy of the full report, please send an email to hra1@arabhra.org.

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