Palestinian Couples Separated by Israel’s Racist Laws

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An Israeli soldier checks Palestinians as they cross an Israeli checkpoint in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron to go to the Ibrahimi Mosque or the Tomb of the Patriarch on 25 March 2013. (Photo: AFP - Hazem Bader)

By: Malik Samara

Published Sunday, April 21, 2013

The law renders residents of Gaza and the West Bank ineligible for Israeli citizenship or a residency permit through marriage. As a result, it separates over 130,000 Palestinian couples where one spouse holds Israeli papers. All appeals made to the Israeli Supreme Court to repeal the law have been rejected.

Israel leaves these couples with only two options: remain apart or emigrate in search of a normal life.

As the Israeli Supreme Court in Jerusalem was preparing to renew the law for the 13th time, activists from the Love in the Time of Apartheid campaign held a symbolic wedding between a young Palestinian woman and an empty chair, meant to symbolize her partner in the West Bank.

This was not the first ceremony of its kind to be organized by the campaign. In March, a wedding procession began at the Israeli military checkpoint near the village of Hizma, but ended with Israeli soldiers storming the ceremony and firing stun grenades at the activists.

These symbolic weddings are only some of the events organized by the campaign. According to its coordinator Wafi Bilal, “We hold weekly meetings with activists from various parts of historic Palestine. We plan to hold similar events to push the issue to the international stage.”

The law not only affects those families where one member carries Israeli papers, but also “future Palestinian generations, who are prevented from forming natural bonds,” said Bilal.

Ordinary marriage procedures are often complex, but when a Palestinian with Palestinian papers marries a Palestinian with Israeli papers, the resulting problems will haunt the remainder of their married lives.

Such a couple would have two choices, both bleak. One, if the latter chooses to live in the West Bank, he or she may lose their Israeli documents. In that case, they will not be able to pass on the Israeli papers to their children, who will then lose access to medical, social, and educational benefits in Israel.

Two, the spouse with the Palestinian documents would have to live as a fugitive in Israel, at risk of deportation. This couple’s children, if born in Israel, will not be granted Israeli citizenship.

These circumstances have prompted some families to emigrate in search of a normal, stable life. But in many cases, couples simply split up.

Amid Israeli concerns about the growing Palestinian population within Israel proper, the law in question seeks to prevent Palestinians from settling in the lands occupied in 1948. It also seeks to drive out Palestinians in the occupied territories, particularly Jerusalem, in what could be deemed a “voluntary population transfer.”

Comically, suitors may now have to ask families about their daughters’ ID cards, whether they’re blue or green – that is, Israeli or Palestinian.

Family-Separation Walls

The northern West Bank city of Jenin is not very far from Nazareth. But if a man from Jenin wants to get engaged to a woman from Nazareth, the distance is nearly insurmountable. It may well be the distance of 64 years from the Nakba.

The most menacing checkpoints are not necessarily those erected along roads, but the intangible ones inside Palestinian households. Family reunification is not only a problem for married couples with different documents, but also family members that carry divergent documents.

This is most common in areas close to occupied Jerusalem. In one Palestinian family, the wife, an Israeli citizen, gave birth to five children in the West Bank, who then obtained the green identity card.

Fearing she might lose her Israeli documents, the woman in question decided to move to her parents’ home in Israel proper. There, she had two children with blue identification cards. Her family is now fragmented.

In one Arab village inside 1948 Palestine, the Asaad family lives away from the eyes of the Israeli police, in a state of extreme isolation and secrecy. Asaad is married to a Palestinian woman living in Israel. He carries a green identification card, and has three children holding permanent residence permits.

Asaad first entered Israel using a temporary entry permit. Since then, he has lived there “illegally.” He only visits his relatives in the West Bank during holidays, when restrictions are relaxed.

Otherwise, he is forced to spend holidays away from his family, while his wife takes their kids to visit his parents. He cannot move freely out of a fear that he will be deported.

Abdallah Salama and his 16-year old son live in the village of al-Ram, a stone’s throw from Jerusalem. On the other side of the city, his wife and his other two children live in the village of Anata, which lies beyond the separation barrier.

The husband and his son, both carrying green identity cards, are forced to travel along rugged roads on their infrequent visits to the mother. In turn, Abdallah’s wife, whose blue card spares her from the hassles of bypass roads, returns home only on quick visits once or twice a week.

She had decided to move back to Jerusalem fearing that Israeli census officers may visit her parents’ home in the city while she is absent. This would cause her to lose her permit, and would destroy her chances to pass on her papers to her young children.

Since her two children have yet to receive their Israeli-issued documents, they do not have access to free education. They therefore have to join the long daily wait at the Qalandiya checkpoint, on their way to their mother’s home, back from school in al-Ram.

The family of Abdallah Salama is one of thousands that applied for family reunification after 2003. But under the citizenship law, the family was denied the chance to live under the same roof.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


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