Let no man put asunder...
WHEN we are getting too used to seeing bombs destroying families and pictures of children dismembered by cluster bombs and landmines, or hearing of people denied medicines and food by sanctions and blockade, it may seem an anticlimax to talk about how just one couple are prevented from getting on with their life together.
But such true stories that don't make headlines are also part of the everyday brutality of racism being built by laws and officialdom alongside Israel's Apartheid Wall.
Last week at a public meeting in the Houses of Parliament, following the November 29 Lobby for Palestine, we applauded speeches by MPs Gerald Kaufman, Richard Burden, and Jeremy Corbyn, and the Palestinian delegation leader Manuel Hassassian. We greeted the good news brought by Dan Judelson, of European Jews for Just Peace, that a Dutch ethical bank had decided to disinvest from Connex (operators of Jerusalem light railway linking settlements - see my blog July 6, 2006).
But what brought gasps was an unscheduled speaker from the floor, a woman describing how Israel had refused her a visa to rejoin her Palestinian husband, whom she had met, fallen in love with, and married while they were working together as colleagues.
Now here, via the PLO Mission in Washington, DC is a very similar story:
I Want to Keep my Wife!
Israel has decreed that my wife and I can no longer live together. I
am Palestinian and she is Swiss and we have been married for 28 years. She was given two weeks to leave the occupied Palestinian territory. The Israeli Ministry of Interior wrote on her Swiss passport: "LAST PERMIT". We have been living together in Ramallah for 12 years. We came in 1994, when, after the Oslo Agreement, we were encouraged to move to the West Bank by the prospect of "peace" and development.
My wife Anita speaks Arabic, likes the landscape, cooks Arabic meals,
and she cares for my grandfather's village house, an old stone building and the plants around it more than I do. She votes in Palestinian elections as the spouse of a Palestinian. She is active in serving the local society in Public Health. She has so many friends here and considers it home. She still has her valuable European element and contacts, but she doesn't want to be separated from this environment or from me, and I certainly do not want to be separated from her.
Our children are grown up and work abroad. But they are also not sure they will be allowed to visit us here. On her way to visit us in Ramallah a few months ago, our daughter who has a Swiss passport, was delayed for six hours at Tel Aviv airport and grilled when she landed. She was lucky. Others are deported to where they took off from, often spending a night or more at the notorious detention "facility" at the airport.
For the past 12 years, Anita has managed to stay here by diligently
renewing her permit or leaving and coming back every three or six months to comply with the Israeli "law" that applies in the occupied Palestinian territories. She is fighting now to stay here by going to a lawyer and to the Israeli courts, hoping for an injunction to be able to stay until a verdict is reached. She is also in touch with her embassy, and she has joined others in the same predicament in addressing the European Union and the American consulate, and in talking to human rights organizations, both Israeli and Palestinian, and
We don't know what to do. But we have to do it quickly. What do we do about our shared life, our papers and accounts, the hundreds of little things that we have grown to share? What do we do about the new apartment that we made the "mistake" of purchasing at the wrong time? She was keyed up about what tiles to choose and how to model the kitchen. We can't believe, or accept, that we are going to be separated. We believe it though, when we are reminded by other "mixed" couples or families who have, and are being, separated around us.
Since last spring, the Israeli Occupation Authorities have been
increasing the squeeze on holders of foreign passports by denying them entry into the Palestinian areas. Those affected include Palestinians with foreign passports or foreign wives, husbands, children, parents and other relatives. They also include foreign nationals, who come to teach at universities, work or volunteer with local or foreign Non-Governmental Organizations, experts with
various projects often funded by European countries, sympathizers or human rights activists.
Bitakhon is the magic word in Israel. In the name of Bitakhon, or security, Israeli authorities can take any illegal, inhuman, immoral or aggressive measures against the Palestinian population under
military occupation. They can throw the word Bitakhon at any European or foreign diplomat who questions any of their measures, even when those measures go against human rights, international and humanitarian law, or the Fourth Geneva Conventions which govern the conduct of occupying powers towards the occupied population. It seems sometimes, to Palestinians, that a third rate official at any Israeli ministry can frighten the whole of the European Union
and its officials by invoking the "security" of Israelis, or by hinting at what Europe did to the Jews.
My wife is not alone to be given an ultimatum this last week. Dozens of other wives, husbands and children who have been living in the West Bank for years, renewing their Israeli-issued "visitors'" permits to stay every three months, have been given short extensions, none of which exceed the end of this year. Children will have to be taken out of schools, and will be separated from their parents, or from one of them. Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and grandparents of the cherished local extended families will be torn apart.
Hundreds of others are also waiting their fate in the coming days and
weeks. Thousands have been denied visits this last summer to their families and homes and roots. Summer is often the season for marriage of Palestinians divided by different passports or IDs and festivities used to fill the summer nights with music and dance. Not in the summer of 2006.
The Israeli Occupation does not stop at confiscating the land. I feel
occupied in my shirt pocket. My "Palestinian" Identity Card is issued by Israeli Authorities. They control the Palestinian civil population registry. Every birth, death, marriage, travels in or out, is controlled by Israel even in Gaza, disengagement notwithstanding. Of course, they control the water, the roads and the movement of people within the West Bank through hundreds of barriers and checkpoints. They uproot all the trees that they decide are in their way, that are in the way of the Apartheid Wall cutting its way into the flesh of our land,
or in the way of their colonial settlers who decide to take over yet another spot of land or hill top that pleases them.
Why are the Israelis attacking mixed marriages of Palestinians?
Before people fall in love in Palestine now, they ask about what ID each holds and from where it is issued. They do not want to build a life at risk of being torn apart from the start.
I believe this too is an atrocity. It is not some excess carried out with the excuse of being an unintended consequance, or in the heat of battle. Just the working of cold, uncaring or bloody-minded bureaucracy, or what Hannah Arendt called "the banality of evil". It belies any lingering illusion that the Israeli state is not quite as inhumane and racist as South African Apartheid. Of course it is not entirely unique. Go back far enough and Jewish people among others experienced such treatment from racist authorities. All the more reason then to join voices in solidarity with people like Ghassan and Anita, and condemn what Israel is doing. "For you were strangers in Egypt, and know what it is to be a stranger". Marriage may be an over-rated institution. But most people, if they had to make a choice, would place it over the "right" of any State to exist.