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 fourth story of “Stripping Citizenship”:
The Hidden… The Present
The Family of the Dead… The Living
She refused to give me her name, or any personal information about herself, her husband or her family. She fears that the published information would expose her identity, since she is still living in Israel with her husband and her children. I promised her repeatedly that I would change the information that I will publish regarding her identity, without compromising the facts, so that no one would figure out who she was. She said that she believed me, and agreed to meet with me. But, ‘caution is required’.
She added that even her friends and her husband’s acquaintances know her by different names and varied information. She does not want to be surprised one day by the security forces surrounding her home, in a town somewhere in the Naqab, to be torn away from her husband and her children, thrown in prison, and deported across the border to Gaza if she is identified. Accused of ‘entering and living illegally in Israel’, despite the fact that her husband is an Arab with Israeli citizenship, and she is a mother to Arab children who also have Israeli citizenship.
I jokingly suggested that we name her ‘The dead’. At first, she was afraid, “Dead people don’t speak”. She came around to the joke, though, and said, “I really am dead to life, and so is my family, my husband and children, although we are alive. If the dead heard my story, they would cry in pity and be frightened by this kind of life. They would thank God for his mercy in their death from such a life, a life that requires me to pretend not to exist, to disappear even though I exist, to be dead, although I am alive.” After a sad silence, she said, “Write that my name is ‘the Hidden’ from the ‘dead’ family”.
She is from Gaza. She is an educated and intellectual woman, who graduated from high school with honors many years ago in Gaza. She was planning to study law. While she was in Gaza, she met an Arab man from the Naqab area, who was visiting his relatives in Gaza. (At the time, entering and leaving Gaza was permitted). His relatives in Gaza were her family’s, the ‘dead’ family’s, neighbors.
They both fell in love. She would wait for weeks and months for him to visit his relatives again. The more he visited, the more they fell in love and their attachment grew. They tied the knot in Gaza shortly after Amendment No. 1 of the Citizenship law was issued. However, their love was much stronger than the limitations and prohibitions of the law.
‘The Hidden’ talked impulsively, nonstop. Like a stream of water, sweeping from a high elevation after a heavy rain that doesn’t stop, a mute who has had her tongue untied. A person who has had a rock shifted from her chest, and the silencer removed from her mouth. Emotions trapped for many years were released, a repressed story that finally found the right to tell itself. During our first meeting, her withered, broken eyes lit up and shone brightly when she started to tell her story.
Suddenly, ‘the Hidden’, started to cry bitterly, “Please forgive me, protect my story and my family. I am forbidden to speak, so I can stay here with my family, my husband and my children, so I can maintain my right to be a mother and a wife in my homeland.” I assured her that I would keep her secret. She smiled contently, and as she was saying goodbye, said, “Do not forget that my name is ‘the Hidden’, but my husband’s name is ‘Al Asmar’ (the Dark One), since his skin tone is dark.” Then she suddenly became serious again and said, “What have I done? I have revealed my husband’s color, so she asked me to name him ‘Al Ashqar’ (the Blond), but I told her I will name him ‘Al Asmar’ (the Dark One). Tens of thousands of Naqab residents have dark skin. I hope that the reader will forgive me for not telling all the painful, stressful and horrifying stories of persecution and suffering that ‘the Hidden’ and ‘Al Asmar’ have endured, in order to keep my promise of preserving the family’s identity. Their only fault was that they considered the law of love, and the inclusive human right to have a family, above the racist Israeli law of preventing Arabs, living on both sides of the ‘green line’, from their citizenship and family life simply because they are Arabs.
Therefore, I limit myself to relating these brief facts:
‘The Hidden’ received a permit to enter Israel from Gaza for two days under the pretext of visiting a relative who was undergoing a serious operation at a hospital in Israel. She then married her fiancé in the Naqab. She and ‘Al Asmar’ have two marriage certificates; one in Gaza, and another in Israel. She lived temporarily in a village in Israel, but the ‘Erez’ checkpoint (a checkpoint between Gaza and Israel) records show that she returned to Gaza.
‘The Hidden’ maintains infrequent contact with her family in Gaza through her husband “Al Asmar” and her children. On rare occasions, ‘Al Asmar’ and his children receive an official permit to visit Gaza to see his wife, although she is living with them here, in Israel. Naturally, she cannot request a permit to visit her parents in Gaza, because according to official records, she lives there. In addition, her parents cannot request permission to visit their daughter here, because, according to the records, she lives with them in Gaza.
‘The Hidden’ doesn’t work or study in Israel, because she doesn’t have an Israeli identity card, and does not officially live here. Her dream of studying law is lost. All she can dream of right now is finding a lawyer who can help her get citizenship, or even residence here so she can openly live with her husband and children, in their own home.
‘The Hidden’ is a prisoner in her own home. She avoids leaving the house as much as possible. Whenever she hears a police siren passing in her area, or sees people she thinks are suspicious near her home; she locks herself in the closet and hides. She also avoids using public transportation. She avoids going out with her husband and children to any nearby Jewish town, whether it is to shop or to celebrate the holidays in an amusement park. All the masks and disguises she might wear, and all the plans she may turn to will not be able to help her if a policeman asks her for her ID.
How does she get treatment when she gets sick? There are many humanitarian and Arab doctors in nearby clinics. Sometimes she uses her friends’ health insurance cards, and gets treatment pretending to be someone else.
‘Al Asmar’ has applied for reunification for his wife many times, but the requests have been denied by the Israeli authorities, on the grounds that Israeli law does not permit this. Reuniting a woman with her husband and children, in one home, is not considered a “special humanitarian case” that the authorities should take into account.
‘The Hidden’ exists. The ‘dead’ family is alive. What this mother and wife fears most is that she would really become hidden, when she is discovered and is deprived from living with her husband and children. She also fears that her parents from the ‘dead’ family will die before they see one another again.
‘Al Asmar’, the husband and father, says that death would be easier than seeing his wife being banished from him and his children. His concerns reached the point where he had refused to meet me, or even talk to me on the phone. He said to his wife, “Tell him to consider me dead in the report he is writing about us.”
I don’t know you, ‘Al Asmar’, but I understand you and your concerns. I hope that you forgive me when you read this report, and discover that I did not keep my word and write that you are dead. Your story is alive, you are alive, and you have to stay alive, sitting on Israel’s and the world’s conscience. ‘Al Asmar’, you exist and are alive, your wonderful, heroic wife ‘the Hidden’ is alive. What is dead is the state’s conscience, what is hidden is the law’s justice. A law approved by the court, which calls itself the “Supreme Court of Justice”, requires those who exist to hide, while present. It requires those living to die, while they are alive.