One used to be able to take the Hijaz railway from Akka to Jenin and then to Nablus. The railway, built by Sultan Abdel Hamid II at the turn of the twentieth century, was intended to consolidate his own power over the Ottoman Empire, but perhaps its more lasting impact was to unify the inhabitants of Palestine.
Jenin and Akka are less than 50 kilometers away from each other, but in order to travel between the two cities one must pass through a military checkpoint positioned between the wall Israel is building in the West Bank and the rest of historic Palestine.
Taiseer Khatib, from Akka, and Lana, from Jenin, met in the midst of the second intifada, soon after the Israeli military demolished the Jenin refugee camp in what it named Operation Defensive Shield. Taiseer was visiting Jenin to collect information for a doctoral thesis he was preparing to start at York University in Canada.
“We first met in the ministry of health in Jenin. I wasn’t wearing the traditional dress. I was wearing some sandals and that caught her attention and so did my dialect and accent,” Taiseer remembers.
Their experiences of Israeli rule have been somewhat different.
Taiseer’s family history is defined by the Nakba (catastrophe), the ethnic cleansing that led to the formation of Israel in 1948. His family, which once lived in the now destroyed village Miar, is currently spread across the Middle East. His mother’s family ended up down the coast in a refugee camp in Gaza and his father’s family was dispersed in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and what is now Israel.
In 1948, Lana’s family lived in the northern West Bank. Her mother was from Nablus, her father from Jenin. It would be another 19 years before the Israeli military would occupy their cities.
Now the two live in Akka, an ancient city that Taiseer proudly explains was freed from the Crusaders by Salah al-Din. They have two young children, Adnan, 4, and Yosra, 3, who like to climb up and over their father while he talks. Taiseer is a tall, slender man. He is finishing his doctorate in anthropology at Haifa University.
The “security” pretext
In 2006, Taiseer and Lana were married, allowing her for the first time to be granted a permit to visit her husband and his family at their home in Akka. Before that, Taiseer routinely visited Lana at her home in Jenin. But upon marrying Taiseer, Lana did not receive citizenship, nor could she begin an application for citizenship.
In 2003, when Taiseer and Lana met, the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) passed a temporary law that forbade Palestinians from becoming Israeli citizens upon marrying an Israeli. Called the Nationality and Entry into Israel Law, the law was introduced under the pretext of security — despite there being scant evidence that suggests Palestinian spouses are threats to Israel.
According to the State of Israel’s statistics, of the more than 130,000 applications for family unification that were accepted between 1994 and 2008, only seven Palestinians were indicted and convicted for involvement in attacks against Israel.
Because the law is temporary it can be amended by the Knesset. In 2006, the Israeli high court found the law unconstitutional because it denied citizens — namely Arab citizens — the right to family life. However, the court stopped short of striking the law down, giving the Knesset a chance to alter it.
However, in 2007, the Knesset paid no heed to the recommendations of the court and instead expanded the scope of the prohibition. Now the law forbids family unification between an Israeli citizen and anyone from a country that the security forces of Israel label an “enemy state.” Currently on that list are Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Iraq, and the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
For Sawsan Zaher, of Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, it is clear that this law is not meant to protect Israel from an actual existential threat. Rather it uses security as an excuse to discriminate against the state’s Palestinian citizens.
Demographics the real reason
“This is obviously not about security. This is a blanket prohibition on a huge portion of the population. What is behind the law is demographics — it’s about the ability to control the demographics, preserve a Jewish majority, and control the amount of Palestinians that get in. But these demographic concerns are coming at the cost of Arabs’ rights in Israel.”
The law does not apply equally to Jewish residents of supposed “enemy states.” Jewish people all over the world are automatically granted citizenship to the state of Israel through the Law of Return. Other foreigners wishing to immigrate to Israel must go through a gradual “naturalization” process that takes four-and-a-half years. Before the ban on family unification law was passed in 2003, all Palestinians from the occupied West Bank and Gaza were able to go through this same process.
In July 2003, the same month that the Knesset enacted the Nationality and Entry into Israel Law, the Israeli army announced the completion of the “first phase” of the wall in the West Bank.
Zaher views the ban on family unification and the West Bank wall serve the same function: “They want to make it clear that this is the border of the state of the Jewish people. The Arab citizens in Israel are now the ‘other.”’
Zaher clarifies that the policy of treating Arab citizens of Israel as second class citizens is not new. “But the problem is that now it is law not just policy.”
The State of Israel has yet to establish a written constitution. Instead it relies on its Basic Law as the basis of what will, one day, supposedly make up its constitution.
“Laws define the future relationship between the state and the citizens, and this is a huge problem because they view the Arabs as a threat instead of viewing them as citizens with rights.”
A useless permit
Since Lana and Taiseer married in 2006, each year Lana has been granted a permit to stay in Israel. This permit provides her with no rights. “I don’t have health insurance, I can’t drive, I can’t go to school and I can’t work. I am just here for my husband and children,” she said.
Adalah estimates approximately 20,000 and 30,000 persons inside the State of Israel are in a similar situation as Taiseer and Lana.
“I can breathe, I can eat, but this is not living,” Lana added.
Her last permit will expire at the end of January, and the two can only hope the Israeli interior ministry will not have a change of heart in light of the court’s ruling. Either way, though, Lana says she will not leave her husband or her children, or her home in Akka.
Charlotte Silver is a journalist based in the West Bank. She can be reached at charlottesilver A T gmail D O T com.