A Choice Between Work or Family

Israel's governments bear a responsibility to respect the rights of its Arab citizens - whose lives have been shaped by the occupation of the territories - including the right to see their families regularly without it becoming a writ of expulsion, albeit temporary, from the state.

Dr. Ibrahim Ashur, a native of Haifa, is an anesthesiologist who works in Be'er Sheva. His wife, a native of Gaza, lives in Gaza with their children. Their request for "family reunification" has yet to receive final approval, even though their children are registered on his Israel identity card. In other words, his wife is not presently entitled to live with him in Be'er Sheva. They can only see each other in Gaza, and therefore, are dependent on Israel's Coordination and Liaison Office (CLO) in the Gaza Strip, which issues, or does not issue, entry permits to Israelis with family in Gaza.

Immediately after the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in May 1994, the IDF banned the entry of Israelis into the Gaza Strip. Israeli Arabs, and especially those with relatives there, were permitted to enter the area under restrictive conditions, and every entry required prior coordination. During the intifada the system was disrupted, and Israelis with family in Gaza were often denied entry.

Immediately following the assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin on March 22, the process of issuing permits was suspended. On Sunday, the officer of the "Israelis Department" at the CLO informed Ashur by phone that three-month entry permits were once again being issued, but the individual in question - that is, an Israeli citizen - would have to remain in Gaza during that period. It's temporary, Ashur was assured, and was due to security concerns.

In a conversation with Haaretz, an officer at the CLO confirmed that there was a new directive that "the GOC of the Southern Command had issued a few days ago." The CLO, the advisory and executive body with jurisdiction in the area, even considers the directive to be an improvement: "Since Yassin, there weren't any visits at all. We want to make it possible to carry on the family visits, but owing to the difficulties, the new directive was issued." Meaning that someone with a job in Israel can just forget it? "That isn't the intention, but anyone who wants to enter has to enter for a minimum of three months. This will prevent heavy traffic at the checkpoint. There are alerts and fears right now. If there will be a calm security situation, we believe that the restriction will be rescinded, and the three-month period may be canceled sometime in the next few weeks."

There will not be any calming of the security situation anytime in the near future. The IDF and the CLO are well aware of this. The new directive substantially widens the margins of discrimination against Israel's Arab citizens. Even if it is rescinded soon, even if it is made less rigid, the directive has to raise concerns. The mere fact that it was thought up gives an indication of the degree to which the authorities in Israel perceive Arab citizens as being much less than citizens.

As the occupying power, the IDF is the supreme sovereign in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, and as such, the IDF issues injunctions and regulations that apply to the Palestinians in the territories (and on Israelis entering the territories). But with this new regulation, the IDF has gone one step further: it permits itself to determine the length of the period that citizens will remain outside its borders, and as a result, will be forced to suspend their ordinary lifestyle. Only because they are Arabs. Thus, the IDF has annexed its jurisdiction to include Arab-Israeli citizens, placing them in the category of occupied subjects whose basic human rights are restricted.

Ashur, a citizen - and a citizen who is essential to society, at that - therefore must choose between two foul evils: either absent himself from the hospital for three months, losing salary and risking dismissal, or not see his family for an indefinite period.

Harming the right of Arab-Israelis and Palestinians to a family life - as opposed to the right of Jewish-Israelis - is not news, but the discrimination also cries out from another angle. When Israel occupied the territories in 1967, it also enabled Arab citizens of Israel to develop and renew contacts that existed before 1948. Israel's governments are responsible for the human repercussions their policies have caused over the years. This perception guides attitudes toward the settlers. Israel's governments also bear a responsibility, then, to respect the rights of its Arab citizens - whose lives have been shaped by the occupation of the territories - including the right to see their families regularly without it becoming a writ of expulsion, albeit temporary, from the state.