“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.

“Stripping Citizenship” Story Series #4: “The Hidden… The Present… The Family of the Dead… The Living ”

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.

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

So, without further delay, we present the fourth story of “Stripping Citizenship”:

The Hidden… The Present

The Family of the Dead… The Living

She refused to give me her name, or any personal information about herself, her husband or her family. She fears that the published information would expose her identity, since she is still living in Israel with her husband and her children. I promised her repeatedly that I would change the information that I will publish regarding her identity, without compromising the facts, so that no one would figure out who she was. She said that she believed me, and agreed to meet with me. But, ‘caution is required’.

She added that even her friends and her husband’s acquaintances know her by different names and varied information. She does not want to be surprised one day by the security forces surrounding her home, in a town somewhere in the Naqab, to be torn away from her husband and her children, thrown in prison, and deported across the border to Gaza if she is identified. Accused of ‘entering and living illegally in Israel’, despite the fact that her husband is an Arab with Israeli citizenship, and she is a mother to Arab children who also have Israeli citizenship.

I jokingly suggested that we name her ‘The dead’. At first, she was afraid, “Dead people don’t speak”. She came around to the joke, though, and said, “I really am dead to life, and so is my family, my husband and children, although we are alive. If the dead heard my story, they would cry in pity and be frightened by this kind of life. They would thank God for his mercy in their death from such a life, a life that requires me to pretend not to exist, to disappear even though I exist, to be dead, although I am alive.” After a sad silence, she said, “Write that my name is ‘the Hidden’ from the ‘dead’ family”.

She is from Gaza. She is an educated and intellectual woman, who graduated from high school with honors many years ago in Gaza. She was planning to study law. While she was in Gaza, she met an Arab man from the Naqab area, who was visiting his relatives in Gaza. (At the time, entering and leaving Gaza was permitted). His relatives in Gaza were her family’s, the ‘dead’ family’s, neighbors.

They both fell in love. She would wait for weeks and months for him to visit his relatives again. The more he visited, the more they fell in love and their attachment grew. They tied the knot in Gaza shortly after Amendment No. 1 of the Citizenship law was issued. However, their love was much stronger than the limitations and prohibitions of the law.

‘The Hidden’ talked impulsively, nonstop. Like a stream of water, sweeping from a high elevation after a heavy rain that doesn’t stop, a mute who has had her tongue untied. A person who has had a rock shifted from her chest, and the silencer removed from her mouth.  Emotions trapped for many years were released, a repressed story that finally found the right to tell itself. During our first meeting, her withered, broken eyes lit up and shone brightly when she started to tell her story.

Suddenly, ‘the Hidden’, started to cry bitterly, “Please forgive me, protect my story and my family.  I am forbidden to speak, so I can stay here with my family, my husband and my children, so I can maintain my right to be a mother and a wife in my homeland.”  I assured her that I would keep her secret. She smiled contently, and as she was saying goodbye, said, “Do not forget that my name is ‘the Hidden’, but my husband’s name is ‘Al Asmar’ (the Dark One), since his skin tone is dark.” Then she suddenly became serious again and said, “What have I done?  I have revealed my husband’s color, so she asked me to name him ‘Al Ashqar’ (the Blond), but I told her I will name him ‘Al Asmar’ (the Dark One).  Tens of thousands of Naqab residents have dark skin. I hope that the reader will forgive me for not telling all the painful, stressful and horrifying stories of persecution and suffering that ‘the Hidden’ and ‘Al Asmar’ have endured, in order to keep my promise of preserving the family’s identity. Their only fault was that they considered the law of love, and the inclusive human right to have a family, above the racist Israeli law of preventing Arabs, living on both sides of the ‘green line’, from their citizenship and family life simply because they are Arabs.

Therefore, I limit myself to relating these brief facts:

  • ‘The Hidden’ received a permit to enter Israel from Gaza for two days under the pretext of visiting a relative who was undergoing a serious operation at a hospital in Israel. She then married her fiancé in the Naqab. She and ‘Al Asmar’ have two marriage certificates; one in Gaza, and another in Israel. She lived temporarily in a village in Israel, but the ‘Erez’ checkpoint (a checkpoint between Gaza and Israel) records show that she returned to Gaza.
  • ‘The Hidden’ maintains infrequent contact with her family in Gaza through her husband “Al Asmar” and her children. On rare occasions, ‘Al Asmar’ and his children receive an official permit to visit Gaza to see his wife, although she is living with them here, in Israel. Naturally, she cannot request a permit to visit her parents in Gaza, because according to official records, she lives there. In addition, her parents cannot request permission to visit their daughter here, because, according to the records, she lives with them in Gaza.
  • ‘The Hidden’ doesn’t work or study in Israel, because she doesn’t have an Israeli identity card, and does not officially live here. Her dream of studying law is lost. All she can dream of right now is finding a lawyer who can help her get citizenship, or even residence here so she can openly live with her husband and children, in their own home.
  • ‘The Hidden’ is a prisoner in her own home. She avoids leaving the house as much as possible. Whenever she hears a police siren passing in her area, or sees people she thinks are suspicious near her home; she locks herself in the closet and hides. She also avoids using public transportation. She avoids going out with her husband and children to any nearby Jewish town, whether it is to shop or to celebrate the holidays in an amusement park. All the masks and disguises she might wear, and all the plans she may turn to will not be able to help her if a policeman asks her for her ID.
  • How does she get treatment when she gets sick? There are many humanitarian and Arab doctors in nearby clinics. Sometimes she uses her friends’ health insurance cards, and gets treatment pretending to be someone else.
  • ‘Al Asmar’ has applied for reunification for his wife many times, but the requests have been denied by the Israeli authorities, on the grounds that Israeli law does not permit this. Reuniting a woman with her husband and children, in one home, is not considered a “special humanitarian case” that the authorities should take into account.
  • ‘The Hidden’ exists. The ‘dead’ family is alive. What this mother and wife fears most is that she would really become hidden, when she is discovered and is deprived from living with her husband and children. She also fears that her parents from the ‘dead’ family will die before they see one another again.
  • ‘Al Asmar’, the husband and father, says that death would be easier than seeing his wife being banished from him and his children. His concerns reached the point where he had refused to meet me, or even talk to me on the phone. He said to his wife, “Tell him to consider me dead in the report he is writing about us.”

I don’t know you, ‘Al Asmar’, but I understand you and your concerns. I hope that you forgive me when you read this report, and discover that I did not keep my word and write that you are dead. Your story is alive, you are alive, and you have to stay alive, sitting on Israel’s and the world’s conscience. ‘Al Asmar’, you exist and are alive, your wonderful, heroic wife ‘the Hidden’ is alive. What is dead is the state’s conscience, what is hidden is the law’s justice. A law approved by the court, which calls itself the “Supreme Court of Justice”, requires those who exist to hide, while present. It requires those living to die, while they are alive.

– – –

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.

“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.

“Stripping Citizenship” Story Series #3: “My Wildest Dream”

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.

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

So, without further delay, we present the third story of “Stripping Citizenship”:

My Wildest Dream:

A Husband who Lives with me and is a Father to my Children

 “She” is from a village in the Naqab (Negev), from a native Bedouin family who was displaced and separated in the Nakba of 1948. A large part of the family settled in the West Bank after their displacement. The occupation of 1967 reconnected the family, and she met one of her relatives from a village in the West Bank. They got married, had children and lived in the Naqab. One day, “she” woke up to find that her husband had been deported to the West Bank, and was prohibited not only from the right of temporary residence, but even from the right to visit.

“She” requested that neither her real name, nor the name of her husband be published. She also asked me to change some information about her family so she would not be identified. “We’ve been through enough prosecutions, threats, and even pressure to recruit me, an Arab citizen in Israel, and even my Palestinian husband in the West Bank, to work with the Israeli intelligence service against our people, in exchange for promises of some easing of the restrictions on us.” She said.

Let us give the family meaningful, symbolic names that reflect their situation. Let us name the mother “Palestine”, and say that she is 35 years old, a mother to four children. Let us name the father “Arabi” (Arab), and say that he is 40 years old. Their children are between the ages of 2 to 12 years old, the two daughters are named, “Baqiya” (remaining), and “Haneen” (nostalgia), and the two sons are “Samid” (steadfast), and “Nidal” (struggle).

The father, Arabi, is now a stranger, expelled from his land and his family’s birthplace, the Naqab. The mother, Palestine, misses her Arab family, and believes it is natural for her to marry an Arab from her relatives and from her tribe. She wonders, “By what right does the law consider a natural right a crime, which deserves to be punished?”

The daughter, Baqiya, is an excellent student in her class, and she insists on staying in her village and school, because she hopes that her father could, even for one time, return to attend the ceremony of her receiving a certificate of excellence at school. Haneen doesn’t stop longing for her father; she is invaded by dreams and nightmares during her sleep, to the point that her mother worries that she may have a mental illness. The son Samid, remains steadfast in trying to play the role of the head of the family, even though he is still in elementary school, and has a life threatening heart disease. The other son, Nidal, is sure that he will grow up to be a fighter, able to fight to restore the unity of his family, although angina and shortness of breath are nearly killing him.

It is the mother’s right to believe that the stress of the family’s poor domestic, social, and financial situation is the main reason for her children’s illnesses.  Their “home”, is a small 20 square meter shack of tin and wood, that houses five members, with no protection from the summer heat, or the winter cold and rain. The mother is the head of the family, “I am the mother, father and provider for the family from a meager income I receive from National Insurance benefits.” She wistfully remembers a time when her husband was living with them in the village, working, and living in a better house.

That was before the amendment to the Citizenship Law was issued. Palestine says, “After the law was issued, my husband became from an “enemy state” in a “state of war with Israel”, even though he originates from the Naqab and is from my tribe and relatives. He also can’t even use a primitive hunting gun for birds and wild animals, and has no record of any security violations in the years he lived with me in the Naqab in Israel”.

Palestine and her children communicate with Arabi on the phone, and sometimes they visit him. An “Israeli citizen” can visit the West Bank without a permit, unlike a visit to Gaza. However, for each visit, the rental car costs around 200 dollars (there is no public transportation between the two villages). Every few months, the mother has to decide whether to deprive her children from some clothes and food in order to visit their father, or relinquish the meeting. Both decisions are hard, and weigh heavy on her conscience. Palestine says: “One of my friends in the village is envious of me, because her husband was deported to Gaza, and it is nearly impossible for her and her children to get a permit to visit him. To be frank with you, I am the one who is envious of her, because she is not forced to choose between feeding her family and seeing her husband. Spare me this test”.

The father, Arabi, is just like other ordinary simple people in the West Bank.  He is poor, unemployed, and picks up temporary jobs from time to time. He and his wife decided that the solution to the visitation problem would be for him to visit them by secretly sneaking into Israel, since he cannot enter legally. This decision is very risky. If he gets caught at the border or in the village during his visit, he could be arrested and imprisoned for months, even years, if a fabricated security charge is brought against him, as Palestine said.

Suddenly, a content smile appears on Palestine’s face, and she looks around checking to see if there is anyone who can see or hear us. She whispers to me, “He visits us, sometimes twice in one year.” The smile of content on her face turns into what seems like a victory smile. Arabi, Palestine, and their children Baqiya, Haneen, Samid and Nidal have defeated the state of Israel, the fourth strongest military power in the world, owner of nuclear weapons. They have won, and met as a family; father, mother, and four children.

“I dream of a husband and a father for my children, just like every husband and father, who lives with his family. This is all I dream of”, says Palestine. When Arabi comes to visit them in secret, he comes in disguise under the guise of darkness, so no one will see or identify him. He holds his breath inside their little shack, as the children huddle around him and on him, on his back, his legs and his chest. A day or two later, this imprisoned joy disappears. One son told me that he dreams of his father going out with him to the streets and to the nearby town, just like all fathers do. One daughter asks why her father can’t take her shopping in the nearby city, like her friend’s fathers do.

“Even when he came to visit us during one of the feasts, we could not travel together as a family, with the children, to parks, markets or playgrounds, like all families do. We might encounter a policeman who would ask for our identity cards.  Then my husband would be arrested and imprisoned, and we would be unable to see him, whether we take the expensive trip or he comes secretly. Therefore, we celebrated as ‘prisoners’ in our shack,” says Palestine.

The children are not the only ones suffering from diseases. Although she is young, the mother suffers from several diseases; high blood pressure, diabetes, and shortness of breath.

A woman from the village advised her to divorce her husband and marry another, to be a ‘father’ to her children, to help and provide for the family. Palestine raged from this advice, and shouted, “In what right do I punish a husband who loves me and did not marry another woman despite our long, harsh separation?  I cannot bring another ‘father’ to my children. No ‘new father’ can ever love the children the way that their father loves them, and the way that they love him. People here advise me to divorce him, and people there advise him to marry another woman. While, the officials in the Interior Ministry, who reject our request for reunification of our family every year, ‘advise’ us to give up on our simple dream of a wife, husband and their children living together under the same roof. But we will not divorce our dream, and our children’s dream that my husband and their father will live with us. Let Israel ‘divorce’ her laws!” says Palestine.

The younger son, Nidal, is playing in the dirt with some chickens, not far from us, and looks at us from time to time. I don’t know whether he can hear us or understand what he might have heard, but he surprises us, calling out to his mother, “Mama, I will bring my father back!”

Does the world hear Nidal’s resolve? Or the groan and hope of the mother, Palestine, who says that her wildest dream is to have a husband who lives with her and is a father to her children?

– – –

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.

“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.

“Stripping Citizenship” Story Series #2: “Is There an End to this Displacement?”

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.

To see yesterday’s post including relevant background information and the preface to the report, click here. To read the first story in our series, click here.

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?!

– – –

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 hra1@arabhra.org.

NEW REPORT: “Stripping Citizenship: The Impact of the Citizenship Law Amendments on Palestinian Families in Israel”

Mohammad Zeidan, HRA General Director, presents the new report to local Arabic media representatives in the HRA’s Nazareth office

Nazareth – The Arab Association for Human Rights (HRA)  would like to announce the release of our newest report. “Stripping Citizenship: The Impact of the Citizenship Law Amendments on Palestinian Families in Israel” represents an effort to tell the story of the human impact of Israel’s discriminatory Citizenship Law. The report researched and reported by Samih Ganadri and published by the HRA in Arabic and English.  We are proud to present what we believe to be an accurate reflection of the personal tragedies caused by the law in question.

Specifically, “Stripping Citizenship” is a critique of the May 2002 amendments to the “Citizenship and Entry into Israel” law.  Under the law, Arab Palestinian citizens of Israel cannot obtain citizenship for the person they choose to marry if this person is from the West Bank or the Gaza Strip. In addition to this core ruling, the amendments – which are ostensibly temporary and have been renewed annually since their inception – install exhaustive bureaucratic measures which prevent families from living together and create numerous barriers for visitation.  The report details briefly the legal case against the amendments but focuses on exploring how the intricacies of the ruling affect individuals.

The stories in this report are tragic and heart wrenching.  One woman, Nellie Abu Qa’od, was happily married in Jaffa when the law was passed.  Under the auspices of this new legislation her husband, Samir Kallab, was arrested and, in her words, “taken from me and our two children and dumped in Gaza. I am a citizen and my husband was no longer a citizen, he had become an ‘intruder’”.  Nellie can only visit Samir after obtaining a permit.  She has only been able to do so twice since his arrest in 2003.  Samir’s daughters have grown up without a father because of the new amendments to the Citizenship Law.

The HRA is proud to present the story of Samir and Nellie, and four others like it, for your consideration in “Stripping Citizenship”.  It is the sincere hope of our organization that these stories help prove the inherent discrimination in the text and application of the “Citizenship and Entry intoIsrael” law.

This afternoon the HRA held a press conference to release the report.  Local and national media outlets were on hand to cover the publication of “Stripping Citizenship”.

“Stripping Citizenship” is available to the public now.  You can pick up physical copies for free in our Nazareth office and over the next week we will be publishing the individual stories in serial updates. They will be published on our websiteour WordPress page, and delivered via the HRA newsletter (sign up here!).  While reading these stories, keep in mind that there are many people suffering similar struggles and that the individuals we present for your consideration represent a much larger issue.