Manal Mahamra and family - Daniel Bar-Or - July 2011
Manal Mahamra and her four children in Al-Karmel this week. Photo by Daniel Bar-Or
Text size

A few days ago, the Allenby Bridge between Jordan and the West Bank was again the site of one of those almost routine heartrending scenes about which Israelis are blissfully ignorant. Exactly two weeks ago, Nasser Daoud accompanied his wife and their four children to the border crossing. The wife and mother, Manal Mahamra, was returning with the children to their home in the village of Al-Karmel in the south Hebron hills. Nasser, the husband and father, was parting from them for another year of tears, sadness, longing, wrenching phone calls and worry. Just before they were separated, the father promised he would join the family soon.

Just after the parting, the only daughter, Dana, a lovely girl of 10, implored one of the officers on the Israeli side of the bridge: "Uncle, bring my father." But Dana knew, her father knew and the Israeli uncle-officer knew, too, that Dana's begging would fall on deaf ears and an even deafer heart. Israel prohibits their father from living at home with them.

Since the current right-wing government took power in Israel, family unifications in the West Bank have stopped. Hardly anyone writes about this, no one takes an interest, but under cover of that lack of public interest, this draconian measure has sealed the fate of many families: to be torn apart. There are no statistics on the subject, because families have simply stopped applying, knowing there is no chance the application will be granted. Some families have abandoned their homes and relatives in the West Bank and moved to Jordan; the others continue to live a fragmented life in the West Bank, mothers and fathers cut off from their partners and from their children.

The Israeli Supreme Court has ruled that the right to family life is a basic right and an integral element of human dignity, but that fundamental declaration crashes on the rocks of Israeli occupation policy.

 

Immediately after the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel conducted a population census in the West Bank; anyone who was absent on the day of the census lost the right to live in the West Bank. For example, Nasser Daoud's father, from the town of Yatta. He had just completed his studies at a Jordanian university, and five days before the outbreak of the war he went to Amman to collect his B.A. diploma. Unfortunately for him, he was not at home on the critical day, and therefore was fated to spend the rest of his life in exile, along with tens of thousands of others.

He moved to Kuwait, where his son Nasser was born. In the first years of the occupation, first-degree family unification was allowed, but stricter rules came into force after the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The approach was that the residents of the territories are in principle not entitled to family unification, and the handful of approvals that were given nonetheless, were considered by the occupying power as acts of gracious kindness.

At the beginning of the 1990s, the Jerusalem-based Hamoked - Center for the Defense of the Individual submitted a series of petitions to the High Court of Justice demanding family unification, following which an arbitrary quota was laid down: at first 2,000 approvals a year, then 4,000. The subsequent Oslo accords contained explicit Israeli recognition of what should be self-evident: that marriage justifies family unification.

When the second intifada erupted, in the fall of 2000, Israel completely stopped dealing with all such requests. After the Palestinian elections in 2006, all connection between Israel and the Palestinian Authority regarding family unification was severed. In October 2007, Hamoked again filed a series of petitions in the High Court of Justice, calling for the resumption of family unification. Israel then announced that it would allow family unification as a "political gesture" (wherein lies the "gesture," and what makes it "political"? ) to the government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. As of July 2008, 32,000 requests were approved, but only for families already living in the West Bank who lacked a permit. There was no solution for people living in exile.

Upon the assumption of power of the current right-wing government, in early 2009, family unification requests for the West Bank ceased to be dealt with altogether - which might come as news to those who brag about "improvement" in the conditions of the occupation under the Netanyahu government or under the (imaginary ) control by the PA of civil matters in the West Bank.

 

Nasser Daoud wanted to be a law-abiding citizen. That was the mistake of his life, a fatal error. In contrast to tens of thousands of Palestinians who remained in the West Bank without papers, he traveled to Jordan in 2000, intending to return legally. His wife and children remained in the family's home in Al-Karmel. Since then, all his requests to return to the West Bank, to the place where his father has a home and land, to the place where his wife and children live, have been turned down.

In 2008, when tens of thousands of requests were momentarily approved, he too was filled with hope. The PA's Ministry for Civil Affairs informed him in an official letter, in the name of President Abbas - "may God protect him," as the letter states - that his request for family unification had been approved. Authorization number: 500012384. That document now lies useless in the family's bag of papers: Israel did not endorse it and Nasser Daoud was not allowed to be reunited with his family.

In 1994, Nasser Daoud arrived in the West Bank from Kuwait, where he was born, to visit his family in Yatta and stayed until 2000. In 1997, he married Manal, from the neighboring village. He is now 37, she is 29, and they have four children: Khalil, 12; Dana, 10; Nur a-Din, 7; and Daoud, 5. The family says that Daoud is named for a Jewish friend of his forebears who lived in Yatta in the 1930s. Dana was 40 days old when her father left for Jordan. He hasn't been back since. Her two younger brothers were born after visits to Jordan by their mother.

For three years the family was completely separated. Then, in 2003, Manal and her children spent a year with their father in Jordan. Nasser lives in a tiny apartment in Amman, barely eking out a living as a peddler of underclothing, constantly harassed by city inspectors. The children had a hard time in Amman, and after a year returned home with their mother. Since then, they have visited their father a few more times for lengthy stays, a few months at a time. Their schooling is erratic, partly in Amman, partly in Al-Karmel.

Two years ago, Manal met Musa Abu Hashhash, the Hebron area fieldworker for B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, and sought the organization's help, but to no avail. Last year, the family again moved to Jordan, until they returned to the West Bank two weeks ago. All their belongings are still stuffed into two huge tattered backpacks.

They host us in an uncle's home, apparently ashamed of their own meager dwelling. The mother and the four children now live in one room in the grandparents' home across the street, a shabby room in a shabby flat, with a sheep pen, a chicken coop, garbage and junk in the yard. Nasser's phone number in Jordan is written on the moldy wall. Manal, who obtained a matriculation certificate summa cum laude, did not go on to university because of her uncertain situation. Her mother, Intissar, sighs deeply as she relates this: All her children attended university; only Manal missed out.

Why did they come back again now? Manal says it's because of the children, who feel out of place in their father's slum neighborhood in Amman. Dana, wearing a pink Guess jersey, confirms what her mother says: "Here we know all the children, but in Jordan we don't know anyone." Grandmother Intissar adds that the school in Al-Karmel is better, too. The last time they spoke to their dad was when they were on the bus that took them back to the village, two weeks ago. Nasser just wanted to be sure that they got across the border safely. The phone calls are expensive, so they call only once a month, when Manal's father, Msalem, a schoolteacher, receives his salary. Msalem sighs: his son-in-law has land in Yatta and could build a house for the family here.

Once every six months Nasser submits a request to visit the West Bank to the Israeli Embassy in Amman, for which he pays 25 Jordanian dinars; once every six months his request is rejected. Little Daoud now asks his mother to ask us, the omnipotent Israelis, to bring him his father. Msalem says that all they want is to implement the approval the family received in 2008. He faults the PA for doing nothing to unify his family. Before the family returned, he bought two used beds for his daughter and grandchildren, and a second- or third-hand computer for NIS 200, its innards torn apart. Msalem swears that the fragments of the computer work; he will show us.

 

No response from the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories was received by press time.