Opinion

Breaking Up West Bank Families: An Unseen Israeli Policy

What happened that caused the Israeli apparatus of control to once again make use of their license to abuse mixed couples?

File photo: Palestinian women at the Qalandia checkpoint, West Bank.
Abbas Momani / AFP

Why is Israel so concerned about a Palestinian woman from Ramallah who is married to a citizen of a certain European country, or about a Palestinian man from Bethlehem whose beloved has an American passport? What bothers Israel so much about these “mixed” couples that it sends its long arm into their bedrooms, yanks the partner who is not a resident of the West Bank out of there – and deports them beyond the borders of Israel?

Five weeks ago, Haaretz published an article on this Israeli abuse, the systematic refusal to allow non-Palestinian partners to remain with their families in the West Bank. The article was swallowed up in the Israeli black hole of “it’s not our affair.” But since then more couples have called to tell how Israel is forcing them to live separately. This is policy, not just a collection of individual incidents.

The methods for forced separation are varied. The common basis is a prolonged freeze in the “family reunification” process, which Israel determines if and when it will start and end, how many families will be included and which ones. Family reunification means granting residency in the West Bank and an identity card of the Palestinian Authority. So the foreign partners are living in their homes with a tourist visa from Israel that is extended periodically, whether through the Israeli Civil Administration in the West Bank or after a short trip abroad.

Suddenly the couple wakes up to discover their request for an extension of the permit was not approved, the visa is for a very short time, the partner is being threatened that if she continues to work in the West Bank she will be deported because that is seemingly a violation of the visa conditions. Or before he returns to the West Bank he must deposit an astronomical sum of money that is difficult for them to acquire, or the partner is summoned for a threatening talk in the offices of the Civil Administration.

“You entered Israel through Ben-Gurion Airport,” is how the official describes the terrible crime the woman committed. Or there is simply no answer to the request to extend the tourist visa, and in the offices of the IDF’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories or in the Civil Administration there is no one who answers the telephone.

Other mixed couples in the West Bank went through this same sadistic odyssey 11 years ago, after years in which an unwritten agreement had existed that tourist visas for partners would be extended regularly. Mixed couples organized and proved this was not an “individual problem” but an Israeli political decision. Foreign representatives expressed their dissatisfaction. As a result, the process of family reunification was restored for a short period and COGAT formulated instructions that were meant to allow mixed couples to continue to live in their homes.

What happened that caused the Israeli apparatus of control to once again make use of their license to abuse mixed couples? The answer is with COGAT and has not been provided to us. It is only possible to guess: the weakness of the Palestinians, Donald Trump, the rise of the right in Europe, because we can, because it is another way to expel Palestinians. After all, this is the “Greater Land of Israel” and our demography is scared of Palestinian children.

Two other things stand out here: The Palestinian Authority is giving up in advance on its role and responsibility to represent its citizens. “We are unable to do anything,” say the officials in the Palestinian Interior Ministry and Civil Affairs Ministry, which work with COGAT.

Why shouldn’t the PA raise the matter in international forums? Yes, just like it raises the question of Al-Aqsa. Second, most of the non-Palestinian partners say they are met with inaction by their own representatives: the representatives of the great United States of America, powerful Germany and noble France. You know quite well that your citizens, non-Jewish, married to Jewish Israelis will not face such an abusive attitude. Is such crude Israeli discrimination, Israel spitting in the face of the equality of your citizens, so trivial a matter in your eyes?