The Madison-Rafah Sister City Project

“You married a Palestinian. You cannot enter Israel”

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

In solidarity,
Ranjan Solomon

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.

As in other times, my family and I have been besieged by agape and love from our brothers and sisters, to strengthen us, and we have not fallen to the siege of occupational forces. The voices of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish brothers and sisters have told me how much they denounce the action of the government. They all expressed their solidarity, empathy, and compassion in calls to my wife and family to tell them they are with us, and they have uplifted our spirits. It has recharged our batteries, and helped us to encircle the sharp corners, to lessen the intended pain.

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.

I would like to recommend a campaign to end all suffering of our people, family reunification can be the backbone of this campaign. It is a campaign to uphold the law and lobby for families. Those in the free world need to pressure their governments to end this occupation, and help people here to coexist, on equal footing, with dignity and integrity.

Justice for all, not just a few, for all children, for all families, for all husbands and wives!

You are a security risk – you married a Palestinian

Yesterday Elaine, a US citizen and the wife of Zoughbi E. A. Zoughbi, founder and director of Wi’am: The Palestinian Conflict Transformation Center in Bethlehem, was denied entry into Israel. She was returning from a visit to the US and the family was very much looking forward to her homecoming. When Elaine questioned the Israeli security officer about why other US citizens could enter Israel using the 3 month tourist and she no longer could, the security person said, “Because you married a Palestinian.” I find this completely outrageous and feeling very sad for this lovely family.

I would like you my friends to read the two following posts – the first written yesterday by Tarek who is Elaine’s son. He describes the joy of making preparations for his mother’s return and then the pain and worry of finding out that she had been refused entry. The second part is by Elaine describing her treatment by the Israeli security at the airport. Tarek writes: ‘Warning: to those scrolling the black hole, that is Facebook, looking for positivity, please move on from this post.

April 3rd was supposed to be a day of celebration. For my Muslim friends and community it was “Eid Al-Isra’ wal Mi’raj” and for my family it was the long awaited day in which our mother, Elaine Zoughbi, would return to Bethlehem, Palestine. My mother spent a full week packing and worrying about packing everything that she and her family would need, with great help from my sister and brother. At the same time, my father, brother and I, on the other side of the ocean, worried about cleaning the house and throwing a small celebration, with one of our favourite meals. My mother leaves South Bend around 5 am Tuesday morning to arrive in Tel Aviv around 10:20 am the next day. Hooray!!! She has arrived safely; she is exhausted, but so happy to be back, with the promise of a semi clean house and comfortable bed waiting. She heads to security as we each guess how long it will take her.

Its 1:30 PM, her passport has been confiscated and she has been waiting for over 2 hours just to be called. 2:30 PM, they explain that she cannot enter and is asked to sign a paper stating that she is refused entry on the bases of illegal immigration, and for public safety and order considerations. In essence she is a security risk.

You see, my mother, although married since 1990, still has no right to live with her family. My mother has been living on and off a tourist Visa her whole marriage and has had to worry about whether Israel would allow her entrance to Palestine or not. Today, the answer was not. To add a bit to this, it is important to explain that my mother is a US citizen and tax payer. The US taxes and general political support have given Israel the power to forge its own path and to do as it wishes, so long as Uncle Tom is supporting it. The greatest ally of the United States finds one of its mothers to be a security risk, which warrants the detention and withholding of information, including ticket, of that individual. As the saying goes, “the only way to truly measure friendship is through detaining and withholding information from those who you are directly responsible for”.

Here comes the fun part… we have experienced this before and have heard of other’s experiences, but yet were so hopeful. Shock engulfs us as we hurry to call all who may have any inkling of influence. We spend our time from that moment till 10:44 PM, when my mother informs us that she has been escorted back on the plane. The whole time my mother was awake and in limbo, as it seemed that sharing any information with her would, as herself, be characterized as a security risk. We called and waited, hoped, and then our hope faded. The food laid on the table, the family, including my cousin who was to pick her up on call waited.

“I really wanted to see you all, I miss you”. These were the words uttered so calmly by my mother as she said her farewells from her plane. Our hearts beat loudly in protest, but all we could say was that we are sorry. We spent the remainder of the time putting away our food, and apologizing to family, including my brother and sister who waited to be reassured of her safe arrival. We’re sorry for holding on to hope, and our hearts pay the consequences.

It is the lent season, and I’d like to take this moment to ask you all what you are fasting from? I was intending on fasting from sugar and chocolate with the remaining few days, but the Israeli Occupation seems to have decided that we must also fast from seeing our mother this lent. I was recently reading the Exodus story. What stood out to me was the fact that God hardened the hearts of the Egyptians and pharaoh, allowing them to rescind their word and continue their oppression and enslavement of people. So today I wonder, which god it is that hardens the heart of Israel. Is it the gods of security, wealth, and bureaucracy? And I wonder yet if my people may enjoy freedom, or whether we are doomed to remain occupied or worse forced into more and new Diasporas?

Away from such free-thinking to the present – now, we are left wondering what the future brings. Just like the land was unable to embrace my mother, so rest does not embrace my family tonight. Instead, we are forced to deal with the worries and concerns which we cannot silence… my brother is to be married this May in Palestine, and we are left thinking about whether we will be able to have our mother present. Worse yet, some of us may be wondering whether our celebration can be truly celebrated under such conditions, or whether it shall be rendered simply a ceremony. For my brother, the concern is greater, as his wife to be, is Palestinian in all ways, but nationality, which would render her susceptible to the same abuses and adversity which my mother and family face.

The best part of all of this is that you, as an individual, family, and community, are completely powerless. All we can do is hope, wait, and pray. Sometimes we are pleasantly surprised, but most time we are reminded that our lives are not our own and that our livelihood is measured on a different and much lower standard than others. It is important at this point to say, that besides this one event, my people, my family, and myself, still suffer the other realities and consequences of occupation and of living life under systems of oppression and injustice.

Finally, I could be romantic and say this about family reunification: ” love, one of Israel’s greatest security risks (so long as one or more individuals may be Palestinian or of Palestinian descent)”. But today, I offer no hopeful words or political slogans, but simply an image of a family heading to a restless sleep, with uneaten food, and one less family member than was expected or hoped for tonight. May your families be more fortunate and may our world one day try to bring justice to all the immigrant families which we have divided, and to all the war and conflict ridden communities which we have neglected. May our tongues always betray us towards honesty in spite of our worries and fears, and may our righteous anger always move us towards action that is rooted in justice and informed by love.

Good night and May our dreams of freedom and justice find root in our realities someday… and someday soon.’