‘Come to America’ - Reconsidering a Promise to My Palestinian Husband
Pacific News Service, Jan 22, 2003
The American wife of a Palestinian man reconsiders promises she made to her husband about unassailable American liberties, and wonders if a long tradition of rights expansion in America is at an end.
I am to regret all the promises I made to my Palestinian husband.
“Come to America,” was my siren whisper. “If we live in America, your rights will be protected,” I argued. At first, he would not listen. He had never lived outside of Palestine and was happy in his own ancestral community, accustomed to life under occupation. “In America, everyone is protected by the law,” I said. “Our legal rights are like an incorruptible science.” But he had his company, a beautiful house and a cultural identity he was proud of.
“Think of the places we could travel to and the roads we could drive on,” I dreamed, as the military restrictions shrank the horizons of our lives in Ramallah. First, he was forbidden to travel to Israel on business. Then, he could not travel to his village to see his family. In early 2002, he shut down his telecommunications company because his staff could not come to work. Then, we were forbidden to leave our house for weeks on end.
Finally, my promises started to persuade and he gave in.
We came to California last August. A Green Card arrived soon after. Although we had expected some hostility simply because he was Palestinian Muslim, my husband has been welcomed with open arms. I began to relax into life in America, happy to be somewhere safe and just, for a change.
But soon I found that we had returned to a vastly different America, one in which the national ideals of justice and legal equality were being put aside in pragmatic decisions about homeland security. The compromises on human rights that I thought we had left behind in the Middle East were being made here.
Over a thousand non-Americans are languishing anonymously in prison, federal checkpoints are being set up in immigrant neighborhoods, and visitors from suspect countries — mostly Muslim — are being asked to register, only to be detained and sometimes deported. Immigration lawyers speculate that these federal regulations may soon apply to permanent residents. With the announcement by a federal appeals court that the government can jail indefinitely American citizens captured overseas if they are declared “enemy combatants,” I wonder if, one day, it will go even further.
Will ambiguous fears over national security begin to undermine or reverse our nation’s long, proud expansion of individual liberties?
My husband laughs at my fears. After all, he is used to not having any rights. The vast majority of Palestinian men have been in jail, mostly without charge, trial or lawyer. Throughout his 29 years, a foreign government controlled my husband’s right to education, free movement and self-determination. For him, America is still a land of opportunity, where he enjoys rights and safety beyond his experience, to the envy of his friends in Palestine.
Viewing my country through his eyes gives me perspective. We are lucky to be in America, where we can live the normal lives that were impossible in Palestine. But I mourn the loss of my illusions about what I thought were the unassailable values of American society. I rail against the corruption of the myths upon which America was founded. American society is built on the premise that all citizens should be equal, but now, lines are being drawn in secret that will begin to separate out those who deserve to be American from those who are judged unworthy of that privilege.
I had wanted to share with my husband the rights that came with U.S. citizenship. The Israeli government does not allow me to be a legal permanent resident of the West Bank. If we ever return to Palestine, we will live with the chance that, one day the Israeli government could deport me and my unborn son. I had hoped that if my husband became an American citizen, we would have one country in the world in which we had equal rights and to which we could look for protection. But, in this new climate of compromises in the name of national security, my husband falls into the wrong categories and, as a Muslim Palestinian from the Middle East, he may one day be judged on those bases and not as an American citizen.
Elizabeth Price (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Bay Area-based freelance writer with extensive journalistic experience in the Middle East.