Like many other Israelis, Ibrahim Qadura follows events in Gaza. Like others with children in Gaza, Qadura is listening closely to the talk of the military expanding operations there. However, Qadura's daughter, an Arab Israeli resident of Lod, is not serving in the army there, and is not on a special mission. On December 20, 2-year-old Hadil, an Israeli citizen, was forced to accompany her Palestinian mother, who was deported to Gaza because of the Citizenship Law and the Law of Entry, which prevent the family's reunification.

Qadura was charged with harboring an illegal alien - his wife of four years. Ever since, his wife and daughter have been living in the home of the wife's mother in the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood of Gaza City, and Qadura misses them terribly. Sometime, he says, he even cries. Especially when he is on the phone to Gaza and hears his daughter crying in the background asking when Daddy will come, when will he come home?

It is difficult to imagine a 53-year-old man crying. It is even difficult for him to tell his story - he hesitates to speak. Media exposure is nothing new for Qadura, but he never imagined he would move from the sports page to the news items, and for such a personal matter.

In the 1980s, Qadura starred as a forward for Hapoel Lod's soccer team, which was then in one of the top divisions. For a long time he was the only Arab player on the team. His house is adorned with 17 trophies from that period, engraved with the words "respectfully," and "gratefully." And now this humiliating deportation.

A Kafkaesque story

His story began in a Kafkaesque manner in 2001. After six children and 32 years of marriage, Ibrahim and Salwa Qadura divorced. Two months later, Qadura married Hanan, a relative from Gaza who was 24 at the time. Happy wedding photos of the couple remain on display in the apartment. A short time after the wedding, in December 2001, Qadura applied to the Interior Ministry in Ramle for a residence permit for his new wife. Since his status as a divorcee had not yet been updated on his identity card, the clerk requested additional proof of his divorce.

Qadura went to the clerk who deals with ID cards. The second clerk, who did not know that he had married in the interim, was not content only to do her job, she was also driven by a national sense of purpose. She told Qadura that she did not want to give him a divorce certificate, so he would not marry a woman from the territories. The details appear in a sworn affidavit that Qadura recently gave the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), which has taken on his case.

After receiving his updated ID card, Qadura went back to taking care of his wife's registration. At this point his story turned into an ordeal of errors. To his worst luck, at that point in time the clerks at the Interior Ministry were in the process of transition between jobs. The one did not know what the other had heard and promised, and Qadura was given the run-around to provide more and more certifications. While this was going on, in the middle of the intifada, the Citizenship Law came into effect, which was designed to deny Palestinians the possibility of family reunifications, and Qadura was barred from continuing the application process. What's more, because of the clerks' job change, his early applications were not recorded anywhere, except for in Qadura's memory, which can recall every name and every detail. The law was applied to him retroactively, and his wife remained an illegal alien.

In the storage room next to the busy grocery store he owns, Qadura reconstructs the morning of the deportation. At 8:45 A.M. the police came knocking at his door and took the woman and child to the police station. Only then was he called and asked to come. Qadura himself was questioned for two hours. At the end of the interrogation he was instructed by the police to go home and bring back two suitcases, one for the woman, one for the child. On the same occasion he was also offered to keep the child, who is an Israel citizen. But in this test of Solomon, Qadura was both judge and parent. It was clear to him that he could not tear the child away from her mother.

Without much hesitation, Qadura signed a statement permitting the child to leave for Gaza with her mother. A policeman at the station who knew him tried to help. With his aid, they proposed that the small family remain under house arrest for five days and attempt to petition the High Court. Qadura didn't understand how he could petition the court in five days, while under house arrest, so they simply sat at home - Ibrahim in their home; his wife, Hanan, at the home of relatives in Lod. Now and then the daughter was smuggled into the house so he could see her. At the end of the arrest period he was again summoned to the police station.

In the suitcases he packed a few things that would not be too heavy to carry, and presented himself at the station. His request to escort his wife and child to the Erez crossing was rejected on the spot. They were put into a police van and driven to a checkpoint. For three hours, in the cold, the woman and child sat on the Israeli side of the crossing. For no good reason. Every few minutes he spoke with them on the phone. He cried, and Hanan comforted him. After three hours they were sent on their way to Gaza.

Qadura's story became the talk of the town in Lod. Everyone here knows Qadura, who is a kind of local celebrity. When he walks from his grocery story to his home, in Lod's marketplace, Jewish and Arab residents of the town stop and ask him what's going on. His neighbors in the ethnically mixed apartment block where he lives take care to receive updates on his situation. "What an evil state," say his Jewish neighbors, cursing the government that destroys a family. Qadura says he has no doubt that his wife was deported because someone squealed on him. There are hundreds of couples in Lod of Arab-Israeli men married to Palestinian women from the territories, he says, and no one touches them.

A tone of bitterness creeps into his voice when he speaks of a nephew of his who married a woman from the Philippines, and another nephew who married a Russian woman, whom he met in Russia as a student. Both have since become Israeli citizens, and only his Palestinian wife has been deported to Gaza. But even this story he hurries to sum up: "That's the law, and even if its a racist law, nothing can be done."

`Cosmetic changes'

Qadura's attractive apartment, lined with woodwork built by the previous tenant, an immigrant from Georgia, looks as though it is ready for the return of the child at any moment. All of Hadil's toys, teddy bears and dolls are in perfect order. Photos of the beautiful child decorate the clothes chests and walls. Qadura's relatives come and go, so that he won't feel lonely. His older children, four of whom have children of their own, miss their little sister, as well as Hanan, who was like a sister to them because of their similar ages.

Even his first wife stands by his side. "We are all helping him, but there is nothing like having a woman at home," says Salwa. "How can it bother the government that she is here?"

This is the same question the ACRI is asking, although couched in legal terms, in its petition to the High Court in the matter of the Citizenship Law. In the interim answer the court gave a month ago, the 13 High Court judges stated, "T¼he law in question, we all agree, is not an ordinary law, and it deserves special attention. However, at this point we have avoided giving a decision regarding its legality, because the state has announced that it intends to amend it on several points."

Attorney Sharon Abraham-Weiss of ACRI, who is also dealing with Qadura's issue, says that the amendments that the state is proposing are merely cosmetic and "will not have the power to change the essential flaw in legislation that racially discriminates between Israelis who are married to Palestinian partners, and those married to other partners." In her letter to the Population Administration, Abraham-Weiss mentioned that in the case of foreign workers who are residing in Israel without a permit, the Interior Ministry determined that the parents would not be deported before the ministerial committee makes a decision about the fate of their children. "If this case deals with children who have no legal status, then a fortiori, there could have been no good cause for deporting the mother of an Israeli child," the attorney claims.