This is what happened over the course of two days last week to Maisa Abu Rajab Tamimi, a Palestinian woman of 40, innocent of any crime, born in the Old City of Jerusalem and until last week the mother of nine children.
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Ten days ago, her firstborn, Fuad, shot and seriously wounded two Israeli policemen in East Jerusalem and was himself killed; his body was confiscated by Israel and has not been returned, so she cannot arrange for his burial; her husband was arrested on suspicion that he knew of Fuad’s intentions in advance, and remains in custody; the oldest four of her eight surviving children were expelled to the West Bank from their home in the village of Isawiyah, in East Jerusalem; and she herself, of course, had no choice but to accompany them into exile with her remaining children, and abandon the family’s home, virtually without warning.
Last Thursday, they were driven in a police vehicle to the Qalandiyah checkpoint, and since then the older children have not been able to return to school or to their home, situated near the Mount Scopus campus of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where they have lived in recent years.
Legislation that would allow the deportation of the families of terrorists has not yet been enacted, this form of collective punishment is not yet authorized, but Israel apparently can’t wait. The occupation authorities found a way to expel four children – effectively an entire family – even in the absence of such a law.
On Sunday, after the days of mourning for the unburied Fuad, which they spent at the home of the family of the imprisoned father in Bir Naballah, north of Jerusalem, Maisa and seven of the children moved to Kafr Aqab, outside Ramallah. Until her husband, Al-Kasaf Abu Rajab Tamimi, is released – and no one knows when that will be – his wife and children will live there, in the three-room apartment of Maisa’s mother, Yusra Hirbawi, 65.
Maisa and the children share one room, her sister and their mother another, her brother and his wife are in the third room. It is an untenable situation. A baby’s cries almost drown out the shouts of another child, adults are speaking on phones, a constant din compounds the nerve-jangling overcrowding.
This rather elegant apartment, located on a high floor in a relatively new residential tower, is well kept and crammed with furniture and decorative objects, but was never meant to house the eight deportees who have joined the permanent occupants: Maisa; two daughters, Roz, 16, and Razan, 10; and five sons, Mahmoud, 15, Mohammed, 14, Abed, 12, and 2-year-old twins Omar and Amr. Another daughter, Reem, 19, who is married and pregnant, lives with her husband in the West Bank.
The older children now have to register for a new school and get used to their new surroundings. They, too, it goes without saying, are innocent of any wrongdoing.
Last Tuesday, 21-year-old Fuad Abu Rajab Tamimi woke up, told his mother he wasn’t feeling well, went to the midday prayers in the mosque, then announced that he was leaving for work earlier than usual. Fuad worked in a bakery, where his shifts usually started at 7 P.M. This time, though, he left home at 1 P.M. Other than that, however, there was nothing unusual about his behavior, his mother says now. A few hours later, she heard on television that her son had shot policemen on Saladin Street in East Jerusalem and had been killed. She learned of his death from that report. She couldn’t believe her ears, she says, and started to scream uncontrollably.
Now she speaks in a matter-of-fact tone.
Her husband went to look for Fuad in the local hospitals but did not come back. Maisa tried calling him, but got no answer. It wasn’t until the next day that she was informed by the police – when they summoned her for interrogation – that he’d been arrested.
Hearing the news, neighbors and relatives started to arrive. That evening, police carried out a search of the home, particularly of Fuad’s room. They apparently found nothing. They asked the family whether they’d known of his intentions; no one had had the slightest notion. Finally, they ordered Maisa to come the next day to room No. 4 in the sprawling police station in the Russian Compound in downtown Jerusalem.
As there was no interrogator in room No. 4 at the designated time, Maisa was told to come back in the afternoon. But she was too shaken to return. While she was at the police station, the authorities informed her landlord that the family would have to leave the apartment they were renting from him. The landlord immediately told Maisa, who understood that they were being expelled.
Maisa was born in the Old City of Jerusalem and has a blue permanent-status ID card, but her husband and children are considered residents of the West Bank, where Al-Kasaf was born. They launched a family-unification procedure years ago, but it was still dragging on. Fuad was in possession of a magnetic card, issued by the Israeli Civil Administration and valid until August 17, 2018, which allowed him to enter Jerusalem via a checkpoint. They were living in Isawiyah while waiting to find out whether their unification request would be approved – though such requests are rarely granted. As such, it was not complicated to expel them: They are not considered residents of Jerusalem.
The next day, when Maisa was summoned to the police station again, she was told that her four older children, who had accompanied her at the order of the police, were being expelled. They no longer possessed a “stay-permit” allowing them to remain in their village. She and the four younger children could remain in Isawiyah, but not the older ones. They were questioned one after another by the police and informed that they would have to move to the West Bank. Reem was detained for a long time: being pregnant, she could not pass through the metal-detector, and a policewoman had to be found to do a body search.
The expulsion was a fact, but it was unimaginable for the family to split up and for Maisa to leave the four youngest in Isawiyah. Initially, she and the four older ones were taken to the Qalandiyah checkpoint and left to their fate, while the younger ones stayed with relatives in Isawiyah. Maisa and the children now await the release of the father, who is being interrogated and whose appearance in court, scheduled for this past week, was postponed. Naturally, they are also waiting for Israel to hand over the body of their loved one.
There’s perpetual commotion in the crowded living room. The little twins cling to Mom, the other children mill about aimlessly. Maisa’s sister and mother aren’t yet used to the new conditions.
What happened to Fuad? What made him try to kill policemen? Maisa and her sister say they have no idea. Maybe it was the rudeness of the police toward the women who come to pray at Al-Aqsa, they suggest, or maybe the incident involving Fadwa Abu Tir, a 50-year-old woman from Jerusalem’s Umm Tuba neighborhood, who was shot dead by Israeli forces in East Jerusalem a few hours before Fuad’s shooting spree, for allegedly trying to stab policemen.
“Fuad followed the news, but he was not extreme,” says Maisa, adding that no one who is going to carry out an attack will tell others about his plans, so obviously his loved ones had no idea of his intentions. Perhaps we will never know what drove him to attack Israeli policemen with an improvised rifle, wounding two seriously and incidentally harming his own family, who are now paying the steep price of expulsion for his deed.