All this week 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. Each story intends to display the human consequences of the discriminatory legislation and to show you reality of an often underrepresented minority.
So, without further delay, we present the second story of “Stripping Citizenship”:
Is There an End to this Displacement?
During the Palestinian Nakba in 1948, over 478 Arab Palestinian villages were destroyed by the Israeli military; one of those villages was Aqer, in the Ramla district. Israeli forces destroyed the village and displaced its people, with many fleeing to Gaza and to various Arab villages in the area that would become Israel. A Jewish settlement, Kibbutz Aqron, was established on Aqer’s remains.
The Abu Ghazal family traces its roots back to Aqer. Displacement led some of them to Gaza, while some settled in nearby Lid (Lydda) and became Israeli citizens. The Nakba of 1948 displaced and separated the family, but as a result of the occupation of Gaza in 1967, they could reconnect and visit each other.
This is how Muhammad Abu Ghazal, from occupied Gaza, met his cousin Samira Abu Ghazal from Lid. They got married in 1977, and had five daughters and a son named Shadi.
The father, Muhammad, works as a nurse in Al-Nasir children’s hospital in Gaza. All his siblings and some of his uncles live there. Muhammad doesn’t want to leave his job and his relatives to live with his wife in Lid inside Israel (even if he wanted to, he would not be allowed because of the 2002 Amendment to the Citizenship Law). However, his wife Samira, who is an Israeli citizen, doesn’t want to give up her citizenship and permanently leave her life and relatives in Lid.
Samira moved to live with her husband in Gaza, but she gave birth to her six children in Israel, ensuring their citizenship in Israel and maintaining hers. However, the family and children lived and grew up in Gaza with their father and mother, which is where Shadi, their son, completed his university education.
Since Samira has Israeli citizenship, she theoretically has the right to enter Israel whenever she pleases. Her “problem” lies with her entering and remaining in Gaza. Every six months, she is required to request a permit to enter Gaza and live together with her family.
Every six months, regardless of whether she wants to go back to Lid, she is required to cross the “border” and renew her permit to live in Gaza. Despite the absurdity of this situation, and the hardship of travel and procedures faced by Samira, Israel consistently grants her this permit. Indeed, it does not harm the “Jewish state” to reduce the number of Arabs within its borders, while forbidding them to reside with their families in Israel.
The problem compounded as the children grew older. Like their mother, they all have Israeli citizenship. Shadi moved to Lid, where he works as a teacher, and two of his sisters moved there too. The other three sisters remained in Gaza; two have married and have lost their right to Israeli citizenship.
The Abu Ghazal family’s story is particularly unique. Usually, the spouse from the Occupied Territories requests Israeli citizenship to live with their partner in Israel. When this request is rejected, the family is torn apart. Muhammad Abu Ghazal did not ask for Israeli citizenship, and his wife Samira did not refuse to move to Gaza to live there, while maintaining her own and her children’s citizenship. Despite this, Israel’s laws and procedures are causing their displacement. By living in Gaza, the Abu Ghazal family have dismissed Israel’s false pretences that the purpose behind an Arab from the Occupied Territories marrying an Israeli citizen is to harm the “Jewishness” of the state, by changing its demography, and/or to carry out “acts of sabotage and terrorism” in Israel.
The Abu Ghazal family was displaced and broken apart again. The father cannot, even if he wanted to, move to Lid to live with his family, as Israel will not allow him that right. The daughters who stayed and married in Gaza are also not allowed this right. Now, half of the family has Israeli citizenship, while the other half has Palestinian “Gazan” citizenship. The two halves cannot meet or visit each other on a regular basis, although they are one family. Samira’s case is relatively the simplest, as she can live in Gaza, as well as visit her family and live in Lid. By splitting the family, the mother’s heart has been broken in half, one with the father and three daughters in Gaza, the other with her three children in Lid.
The half of the Abu Ghazal family who live in Gaza, (except the mother), cannot visit the other half in Lid, however, those in Lid can, legally and formally, visit their family in Gaza. This visit is dependent on tedious, long and difficult applications, which usually end in rejection, except in rare “exceptional cases”.
The readers will be lost just like Odysseus was in the Odyssey, if we present them with all the suffering that the eight family members go through as a result of the amendments to the citizenship law. One half of the same family has entered, by virtue of law, into a state of “war and hostility” with the other half because they live in a state/region defined as a “hostile state” and “in a state of war with Israel”, as if the meeting of a son with his father and sister constitutes a “terrorist threat” to the State.
Shadi says: “In the past 11 years, I have not been able to get permission to visit my family and see my father except twice, and each time for only three days. Once, I submitted medical papers proving that my father has diabetes; the officer in charge of the permits told me that my request had been denied, because, according to him, “The degree of illness is not serious yet”.
A few months later, I presented him with documents that prove that the illness had exacerbated, but the officer in charge denied my request again. He claimed that my father was still in his fifties and in his opinion, he would not die soon. I asked him, “What disease will grant me permission to visit my father, mother and sisters?” He answered, “A heart attack, a brain malfunction, or any other disease that ensures that death is near and inevitable”. I screamed in his face, “I’ll make this easier for you and maybe bring you his death certificate!” The officer laughed and said, “Then we will immediately give you a permit for two days to attend the funeral.”
From his experience, Shadi confirms that death is not necessarily a valid humanitarian reason allowing a visit. He has been denied from attending his grandfather’s funeral, as well as his cousin’s.
Shadi’s son Muhammad, named after his grandfather, is four years old. Muhammad communicates with his grandfather over the phone. A year and a half ago, Shadi got a permit to visit his mother who was undergoing a serious operation in Gaza, and Muhammad was able to go too.
In Gaza, Muhammad met his cousin, Lama. He also got to know that his grandfather was an expert in bicycles and their repair. Muhammad has been crying for months asking to play with Lama, wanting to visit her, and asking his grandfather to bring him a bicycle.
Every time Muhammad cries asking for Lama, Shadi takes him for a stroll in Lid, and keeps him occupied until he gets tired, and then he brings him home to bed
Shadi bought the bicycle Muhammad had asked for from a store in Lid and told him that his grandfather had sent it to him, and that he could not visit and bring it himself, because it is “forbidden”. Then Muhammad started asking his father about the meaning of the word “forbidden”, and why his grandfather is forbidden from visiting him, whereas his friends’ grandfathers can.
A few weeks after this incident, Muhammad’s teacher told Shadi that while teaching the children about families, specifically about grandparents, Muhammad had started talking enthusiastically about his grandfather in Gaza, about the gifts he sends him and that he had recently sent him a bicycle and sweets. The teacher had asked Muhammad why his grandfather sends him gifts rather than bringing them with him when he visits. Muhammad had answered her: “no, it’s forbidden.”
Shadi’s eyes filled with tears as he was talking to me. He suddenly regained his strength, and collected himself as a serious teacher, and said, “My son, Muhammad, is the seventh generation since 1948; generation after generation is growing up in light of the tragedy, as displaced refugees in various countries around the world. The only fault our grandparents committed was being born as Arabs in Palestine, but a person cannot choose his hometown, or his nationality. Here in Israel, with the new Citizenship Law, they want to control our choices of who to marry, the rights of a family to live together and its members getting to know each other.”
Following a sad silence, Shadi continues, “What hurts me the most is that those doing this to us are the Jews, who have been dispersed and have suffered from injustice, exclusion and racial discrimination for many years. How can they do to others what they themselves suffered from in the past?
“Will this night ever end? Will this displacement, exile, alienation and tragedies ever end? I appeal to democratic Jews, to all the free people of the world, to the world’s conscience to put an end to this tragedy. How long will the world stay silent, not pressuring Israel to respect human rights? I do not want my son to grow up incomplete, full of hatred seeking revenge. I want peace and tranquility for the two peoples in this country, Arabs and Jews. Is there no one to help?”
Shadi got up, ending the interview and left. I stayed in the room alone, thinking of how I was going to write an ending for this story. I decided that Shadi’s questions are the best ending: Will Israel’s judiciary and the world’s conscience provide the answers?!
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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.
“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 firstname.lastname@example.org.