Israel’s family reunion practices are gravely offensive
Palestine Update 234, April 12, 2019
This time; Palestine Updates brings you two powerful testimonies. The first is from Zoughbi Zoughbi, Director of Wi’am: The Palestinian Conflict Transformation Center. Wi’am is a grassroots civil society organization based in Bethlehem with a mission to promote peacebuilding and empower community members as agents of change. Zoughbi describes himself as a Palestinian, who believes that violence dehumanizes human beings. Therefore, through nonviolent struggle, he seeks to find the common ground in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in the belief that human beings are created in the image of God.
In his testimony: ‘Encircling the sharp edges’ Zoughbi shares his sadness and disdain at the way his wife was refused permission to enter Israel when she flew back from the USA to join the family on the occasion of their son’s marriage. In a second testimony, Elaine, his wife, a US citizen also writes of her emotions and details of the encounter with an intensely callous and inconsiderate set of immigration officers who had just one reason to treat her as they did. Elaine had married a Palestinian. Zoughbi puts it poignantly when he writes: “The story of our family is but one of many similar stories, especially those Palestinians married to persons from other countries and from Palestinians who live in diaspora. My story has hit me hard. Families have the human right to be together; it is the basis of all human rights, whether someone marries tomorrow or is married 30 years from tomorrow”.
Please read these testimonies and disseminate them widely. They are profound and touching. It never ceases to amaze those of us from the outside how Palestinians remain resilient even in the harshest of circumstances and view their own adversity as reasons to fight for universal justice, not just their own.
You may wish to write a letter of solidarity to the family of Zoughbi (zoughbi at alaslah.org)
Encircling the sharp edges
by Zoughbi Zoughbi
We are still in shock about the inhumane treatment of my wife who has been married to me since 1990, having raised our four children together during those years. Last week she arrived very early to the airport in South Bend Indiana, in order to fly through Chicago then to Newark, and finally, to Tel Aviv. Her children and I couldn’t wait to greet her, to welcome, kiss, and hug her. With great anticipation we couldn’t wait to reunite our family, and to embark on the preparations for our son Lucas’ wedding. Our hearts were beating rapidly as we watched to see when the airplane would arrive in Tel Aviv, so we could talk to her on the phone and hear her voice. We sat mesmerized at our home waiting for any word from her. After initially being thrilled that she landed safely and joyfully in Tel Aviv airport, we stayed rooted next to the telephone, knowing that sometimes the Israeli Authorities will want to check our connection, to ensure she is related to us. After nearly thirty years, we know they already have profiles on all our family members. Even though all the information they need is available to them, the call is a subtle way for them to add extra humiliation. This is done in spite of the fact that we have always been a peace-loving family trying to live faithfully in the Holy Land. We refuse to hate.
As we talked to her later, we noticed that the tone and tenor of her voice became more stressed and strained, as she waited four to five hours without knowing whether they would let her in the country. Although she is an American citizen, they openly claimed she was a criminal because she married a Palestinian. This is heart wrenching, as we know that she has already sacrificed a lot for her children and husband, leaving the comforts of her home country, the United States, sheltered in peace, calmness and tranquility, to come to an unfamiliar place. For 29 years, my wife was walking the Via Dolorsosa, having to renew her visa every 3 months. She hoped to get her visa for one year, as probation to get her permanent residence. The 1993 peace process had given us false hope, the possibility of no more agony, no more pain. For 29 years the authorities played a game around letting her into the country or not. My wife once said that she was honored to be treated as a Palestinian refugee, to live among those of us without a safe place, without a secure future. She chose to live a more stress-filled life, the life we have under occupation. My children said my wife was once the most privileged in the family; she has become the least privileged. Not only that, but now she has to suffer even more pain and stress for no apparent reason, just because she wants to gather her children and husband together under a single roof.
This is not just a personal story only, but a story of my people. We refuse to be discouraged and decimated by the constant hurt and humiliation. Our commitment will not be any other manner, but a way of non-violence and the pursuit of legal restitution. We reject violence. But we will not give up even as our oppressors orchestrate new ways to push us away, out of our homes. Thank heavens that it is now the Lent season, as our story resonates with the passion of Christ. I do not know which station of the cross we are on, from the first to the fourteenth, but I know there is a denial and rejection of my wife’s presence here, like all Palestinians and those who love them.
This incident reminds us that there exists a law born in 1951, The Israeli Law of Return, observed in Israel, allows anyone who has a Jewish great, great grandmother to come here and live anywhere, regardless of any other consideration, such as their race, ethnicity, nationality, place of birth, or who they marry. Even this law is now being discarded when it is inconvenient. Newly arrived Israeli citizens make life and death decisions about those of us deeply rooted in this place, who have no voice. Those of us who have long history here, a long interaction with the land and the people of this land, we have no place. As the Bible says, “The foxes have dens and the birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Matthew 8.20). There was no resurrection without the Via Dolorosa or Golgotha. Unsurprisingly, we follow Jesus. But as his followers, we will not allow their attempts to crucify us be the final word. Those in power should have learned their lesson nearly 2,000 years ago. Our Lord was not defeated by pain and humiliation, but he was resurrected, in spite of the humiliating trials of the Via Dolorosa and the pain of Golgotha. They forget He has won the victory already, in any struggle against injustice.