A., a resident of central Israel, was married for 25 years to M., a Palestinian man. All those years the couple lived in Israel, where they raised their five children. In 2000, as the Al-Aqsa Intifada broke out, M. was granted temporary residency under family reunification regulations.
But the couple's relationship deteriorated, and A. asked the Interior Ministry not to renew M.'s residency. A. said that when she asked the clerk what would happen if she later regretted the decision, she was told she would only have to write a letter to the ministry.
In January 2007, the man was sent from Israel to the Gaza Strip. Since then, one of his children gave birth to his first grandchild - whom he has yet to meet - and his son is preparing to enlist in the Israel Defense Forces. Meanwhile, all of the couple's requests to reunite in Israel have been ignored or rejected.
A. eventually came to regret her decision not to renew M.'s residency, and earlier this year she filed a request with the Interior Ministry asking that he be allowed to return. She was informed, however, that the family reunification process would have to be initiated anew.
She reapplied this April, requesting that M. be given permanent residency, a status he was entitled to before he returned to the Gaza Strip.
Months passed, and A. received no response from the Interior Ministry. She later learned that the clerk who had handled their case had left his job and not been replaced, leaving all requests for reunification from the Palestinian territories unanswered.
Meanwhile in May, one of M.'s children gave birth to his first grandchild. M. asked the Civil Administration in Gaza for permission to enter Israel temporarily to see the child, and his request was transferred to the liaison office at the Erez border crossing.
After receiving no response to this request, the couple appealed to Tel Aviv District Court. They stated M. had lived in Israel for 25 years, had established himself in Israeli society and had worked as an employee and contractor for construction firms. He had raised children in Israel, speaks perfect Hebrew and considers himself Israeli in every respect, they added.
A. added that had she known the implications of her request to distance him, she would never have filed it.
Furthermore, M. fears for his safety in Gaza. He told the court that on the night of July 31, three masked Hamas members came to his home and began searching his apartment. They asked him whether he had children with a Jewish woman, whether his eldest daughter had served in the Israel Defense Forces, and whether his son was currently preparing to enlist. M. said he told the men his children are Arab, not Jewish, but that they responded, "We know everything about you." He said Hamas operatives visited his apartment four times.
He now tries to minimize his time there, and suspects his neighbor is spying for Hamas, he said.
Following the appeal, the court merely instructed the Interior Ministry to inform A. why it had refused her children's father entry into Israel.
The ministry told the court in response that M. has no legal right to reside in Israel, and that since Hamas took over the Strip last summer, Gaza residents are allowed into Israel only on rare occasions, such as for medical care.
The ministry eventually offered A. a solution: She is welcome to move to the Gaza Strip under the framework of "divided family" regulations, which allow Palestinian-Israeli Arab couples to reunite in the Strip. The decision may have been influenced by the fact that A. converted to Islam before her marriage decades ago, even though she says she still considers herself Jewish.
Meanwhile, A.'s attorneys are still trying to bring M. into Israel, a prospect that now seems more distant than ever.
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