My father has a Palestinian identity card or hawiyye. My mother, however, was born in Jordan to a Palestinian refugee family, so she carries a Jordanian and a US passport.
My parents both decided early on that they wanted to raise me and my three younger siblings in our homeland to ensure that we maintain our language and culture. Up until 2006, Palestine was my home.
In early 2006, our family came to the US for better job and education opportunities. We planned to keep our house in Palestine and come back for the summers, at least.
But when I tried to visit Palestine in the summer of 2008, I was denied entry and banned for five years. This was because of a technicality — the Israeli airport security personnel apparently found in their system that my mother at one point overstayed her visa when she was in Palestine trying to raise me and my three siblings.
I was being punished for something I had no idea about as a child.
In 2012, I finally attempted to try and enter the country again. Fortunately, I was allowed in.
It was during this visit when I met Marjan, who I fell in love with. She eventually became my fiancée.
Throughout the past two years, Marjan and I planned to have a beautiful wedding celebration with our family and friends in Palestine on 11 August this year. I planned on bringing her with me back to Chicago after the wedding.
Back in the US and working to save up for our wedding, I was excited to come to Palestine this summer to marry Marjan. My mother, youngest brother Wael and younger sister Yasmin were set to go to Palestine ahead of me to help us with wedding preparations.
Unfortunately, my mother was denied entry, even though it was her first time coming in seven years. During interrogation in Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport, Yasmin was put into a different room than my mother and Wael.
Yasmin was questioned about why she was visiting Israel, and she told them she was coming for my wedding. After a short interrogation, she was allowed in.
But my mother and Wael were not allowed in. When airport security officials found out that my youngest brother was born in Palestine and was eligible to get his hawiyye, they informed my mother they were not going to let them in.
They said they did not believe my mother was there for a wedding because she did not provide a wedding invitation as proof. They then drove her and Wael to an Israeli jail, where they stayed for the night until they were flown back to the US the next morning.
My mother and Wael were told they can come in next time, if they provide an invitation. The fact that they let my sister in so easily because she had a different interrogator shows that it all depends on the mood of the interrogator.
There is no clear system. It is arbitrary. In any case, my mother and Wael were not going to give up and planned on attempting to come in again so they could be there for my wedding.
I was confident that it would be different for me. I thought I would be allowed in because I had no problems when I entered in 2012.
I also was clearly not going to be there for long, as my return flight was set for 29 August. But when I got to the airport I was taken into the interrogation room and questioned for five hours. The officials asked me what seemed to be the same questions over and over.
“Who are you going to see?”
“Where exactly are you visiting?”
“How long will you be staying?”
“What do you do in the US? What’s your number? What’s your email address?”
“What’s your father’s name? What does your father do for a living?”
“What is your mother’s name? What does your mother do?”
“What’s your sister’s name? What does your sister do?”
“What are your brothers’ names? What do they do?”
They also tore apart everything in my luggage, even a bag of chips, to inspect it.
After five hours, they informed me that I would not be allowed into the country. I was shocked and confused. I asked them why.
What did I do wrong? All I wanted was to get married.
They told me: “This is security business. We can’t tell you why, but you have to go home.”
They also informed me that they put a new policy into place and that everyone denied entry cannot return for ten years.
Devastated, I was put on the next flight back to the US. I stopped in Philadelphia on the way to Chicago for my connecting flight.
In the US, an official asked me why I was back after only a day of being overseas. I told him that I was denied entry by Israel. He told me the Israelis should have provided me with paperwork explaining why.
He went and spoke to others in his department. He came back and told me, “You’re not the only one who Israel has been denying entry to. There have been apparently twenty others the past week alone.”
He apologized that I had to go through that.
Now that I’m back home, we have to figure out a way to bring Marjan to the US so we can have our wedding here instead. Israel’s discriminatory and unpredictable denial of entry to Palestinian Americans has stopped us from getting married as planned, and now I must ask my fiancée to get married here in Chicago, far away from her family and friends.
Mohammed Kartoum is a 26-year-old Palestinian American who was raised in the West Bank city of Kufr Malik. He is currently a truck driver and freelance artist based in Chicago.