Palestine: Love in the Time of Apartheid
By: Leah Caldwell
Published Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land and their draconian citizenship laws now threaten one of the most basic of human bonds, love.
Some love stories have happy endings, others sad, but at least there’s a conclusive ending. In occupied Palestine, love stories often hover in a nervous limbo; checkpoints, racist citizenship laws, and an impossible visa process leave many Palestinian relationships with uncertain fates.
NY-based human rights activist Tanya Keilani’s “Love Under Apartheid” video series, launched this Valentine’s Day, documents this precarious nature of Palestinian love under Israeli occupation.
“You feel in a way like a marionette, you always can fall down,” relates Toine from the Netherlands, whose wife from Bethlehem faces countless mobility restrictions. His story and others posted on the Love Under Apartheid site recount the discriminatory nature of Israeli policies that invade every aspect of Palestinians’ personal lives and keep them apart. Husbands from the West Bank with wives from Gaza are unable to visit; wives from the West Bank with husbands who have Israeli citizenship are denied basic rights and face deportation, and so on.
“I want people to understand what’s at stake, what it means to systematically divide families and separate loved ones,” said Keilani. “As a Palestinian, these are the stories I grew up with. What should be abnormal – to have to select a partner or to manage your life’s personal decisions based on an ID card arbitrarily issued by an occupying army – has become normal to us.”
The story of couples like Taiseer and Lana Khatib has become all too common. Though he is a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship, his wife Lana is from the West Bank. They live together in Akka with their two children, but a 2003 Israeli citizenship law has made it impossible for Lana to obtain citizenship. In turn, as an Israeli citizen, Taiseer is forbidden from living in the West Bank. The Israeli High Court recently denied a final appeal to overturn the citizenship law. So today, the couple’s ability to live under one roof is based on the whims of Israeli officials.
While Khatib and Lana’s story is unfolding, others have already reached tragic ends. Samer from Jerusalem had his ID stripped from him by Israeli officials, leaving him unable to visit his mother who was dying of cancer in Jerusalem. His father was only able to receive a visa in time to bury her. In his video journal Samer points out that “she did not go to Israel, Israel came to her. She lived there for 14 years before Israel ever came to her, but that didn’t save her from any discrimination.”
The stories of Love Under Apartheid are deeply personal, but one also comes to understand the common thread of discriminatory Israeli policies that is at work in each tale. “Without segregationist policies, Palestinians are larger in numbers. The Israeli state recognizes that to guarantee equal rights is to create a state that is not exclusively Jewish,” said Keilani. “The occupation’s need to preserve Jewishness first is the fundamental root of restrictions on the Palestinian right to love.”
Though the launch of the project was timed with Valentine’s Day, the site will remain a space where Palestinians can document their stories. Already, the grassroots effort has produced seven videos and growing. Keilani said, “Without video, we would not see the images of a couple holding hands in defiance of law, a child kept from his mother in a time of need or a young man separated from his family for years.”