One Palestinian Romeo's journey to reunite with his Gaza Strip Juliet
For one young groom, getting married entailed traveling through the Gaza tunnels and 23 days in detention - and he is still parted from his bride.
What began as a chance friendship on Facebook recently took Taher Musalmani, 23, of Kafr Kara, on the expedition of a lifetime. Two months ago Musalmani married Rita Ashok, a 26-year-old film director and journalist from Gaza, after what seemed an impossible journey.
From his home in Kafr Kara, Musalmani told Haaretz this week that about six months ago he happened onto Ashok's Facebook page. After they began to correspond regularly, "we slowly felt that the love between us was not a passing thing and I proposed marriage to her," he says.
After she agreed, there was only one problem - how to meet - since he was in Israel and she was in Gaza. "At first I thought that as a Palestinian citizen and a journalist, she could reach Ramallah and we would meet there, but all her requests were rejected," he says.
Musalmani explains that his requests to visit Gaza were refused, even though he declared that the purpose of his trip was to get married. At this stage the pair came up with an alternate plan: He would reach the Egyptian side of Rafah via the Israel-Egypt Taba border crossing and she would cross from the Gaza side to the Egyptian side.
On July 6, Musalmani arrived as planned in Rafah, but Ashok was prevented by bureaucratic difficulties. "I decided to get to Gaza through the tunnels, a secret I did not share with anyone," Musalmani says. "The trip was short; within two or three minutes I would be in Palestinian Gaza."
Ashok, in a telephone call from Gaza, says, "I know that sometimes there are explosions and so these minutes went very slowly for me.
"To my delight, he arrived in the end and we were able to meet and marry."
After five days in Gaza, Musalmani returned to Israel exactly the same way and took a bus from Eilat to Tel Aviv. When he reached the Tel Aviv central bus station, he was arrested on suspicion of being present in Israel illegally.
After 23 days detention, he was released with some limitations on his freedom, and forced to leave the documents attesting to his marriage in the hands of the police.
"What concerns me now is being with Rita, and I hope that soon she will be allowed to visit Ramallah and we'll be together again," he says.
According to a recent letter from attorney Nomi Heger of the Gisha Legal Center for Freedom of Movement to Interior Minister Eli Yishai and the coordinator of government activities in the territories, Maj. Gen. Eitan Dangot, Palestinians with Israeli citizenship seeking to enter Israel from Gaza are forced to undergo genetic testing upon entrance.
The letter says that the Israeli population registrar is concerned that women will come into Israel with children unrelated to them. "It gives off the rotten smell of callous discrimination and violates the basic human right to respect and freedom," the letter says.
The population registrar's office denies that there has ever been a demand for genetic testing as a condition for border crossing.
The spokesman for the coordinator of government activities in the territories said that, in the wake of the letter, a broad based investigation is taking place.