Headlines, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa

Palestinian Children Inherit Political Separation

Jillian Kestler-D’Amours

JERUSALEM, Mar 10 2012 (IPS) - For Taiseer Khatib and his wife Lana, the most difficult aspect of Israel’s policy of forced family separation is the impact it is having on their children. “Our children are paying the price psychologically. We are trying to protect them, but they have a good sense of what’s going on and they understand that there’s something wrong,” Khatib, who has two children under the age of five, Adnan and Yosra, tells IPS.

The Khatib family, apparently happily together. Credit: Avigail Piperno/IPS.

The Khatib family, apparently happily together. Credit: Avigail Piperno/IPS.

“They see it for example when we go to visit their grandmother in Jenin. Once we arrived to the checkpoint, Lana has to go through walking, and we stay in the car. They’re asking, ‘Why (does) my mother have to go walking from this fence?’”

Khatib is a Palestinian citizen of Israel who was raised and lives in Akka, in northern Israel. His wife, Lana, is originally from Jenin and has a West Bank-only ID.

The couple met in 2002 in Jenin, while Khatib was doing research into the Israeli incursion into the Jenin refugee camp during the Second Intifadah. Shortly thereafter, the couple decided to get married.

But an Israeli law was in place that prevents Palestinian citizens of Israel from applying for permits to allow their spouses to enter and reside in Israel for the purpose of family unification.

Known as the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law, it severely restricts the ability of Palestinian citizens of Israel from living with their spouses if they are residents of the occupied Palestinian territories, or of so- called “enemy states” (Syria, Lebanon, Iran and Iraq).

“We knew about that but we were not willing to let any state interfere in our business, our very private business,” Khatib, a PhD student at Haifa University, says.

He says that to attend her own marriage ceremony in Akka, Lana had to get a permit to enter Israel. “We had the wedding and the next day, because she had no permission, she was forced to go back to Jenin.”

Since that time, Lana has applied for, and been granted, one-year permits to remain in Israel and live with her family in Akka. But the family remains in a state of uncertainty, since the permit doesn’t give Lana basic rights in Israel, and can be revoked at any time.

“It gives her only the possibility to stay with her husband, without security services like health insurance, without being able to drive although she has a driving licence, without being able to work although she has a bachelor’s degree from Al-Najah University in Nablus,” Khatib tells IPS. “This permit became to Lana (like) a prison.”

On Jan. 11 of this year, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected a petition challenging Israel’s Citizenship and Entry into Israel law. In its ruling, the court found that even if the law harmed the constitutional rights of citizens of Israel, this breach of rights was proportional and did not violate what are called the Basic Laws.

“There is of course no doubt that the immediate effect and impact of this law is major and crucial and humanitarian because it leads to the forced separation of thousands of families,” Sawsan Zaher, an attorney at Adalah, the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, tells IPS.

“It’s very problematic because the basis of this law is that it sees every Palestinian as a security threat to Israel, and doesn’t provide even the child or the spouse the ability to contradict this presumption.”

It is estimated that thousands of Palestinians are affected by Israel’s policy of forced family separation. A new website called Love Under Apartheid documents some of these cases through video testimonies.

In one video, Jerusalem-ID holder Nehad, whose name has been changed, describes how she with her children was forced to move from Jerusalem to the Kufr Aqab, on the West Bank side of Israel’s separation wall, in order to live with her husband, who holds a West Bank-only ID.

“In the 15 years we’ve been married, he has not been able to get a permit,” she says in the video. “So we were forced to find a place that we can live together.”

Israel justifies its ban on family unification on the basis of security. According to Israeli government data, however, of the more than 130,000 Palestinians that entered Israel for the purpose of family unification between 1994 and 2008, only 54 were involved in some way in acts of terror against the State, and only seven of these were indicted.

“When you are talking especially about equality, which even under international law is an unalienable right, there is no (such thing as) proportionate discrimination. Either you have discrimination or you don’t have discrimination,” Zaher adds. “I see (this law) as part of a demographic policy which tries to preserve a majority of Jews inside Israel in order to not put the Jewishness of the state under risk.”

According to Taiseer Khatib, this focus on maintaining a Jewish majority in Israel is indeed a major factor in why the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law is maintained.

“This law is meant to silence the Palestinian people and just make them fear and make them feel that they are not part of the land. Israel is asking the Palestinians to declare that Israel is a Jewish state. And in a sense, Jewish state means that we, Palestinians citizens of Israel, may find ourselves in the future having no possibility to stay here in our land.”

Despite these challenges, Khatib says that he and his family would stay in Akka and continue to fight for the basic right to live together. “As a human being, this is my natural right to establish a family with (the person) I love.

“I have the opportunity to take my wife and take my children and go abroad. But I’m not leaving. I’m fighting until the end and I need the support of everyone who feels that this injustice must stop. We are talking about human beings and children who are the first victims of these racist laws.”

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