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 Wordpress. 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?