Opinion |

The Secret Palestinian Doomsday Weapon

Israel prevents Palestinians from living with their foreign partners, one strategy among many to expel them from their land and deny their rights because of 'political issues'

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Josefin Herbach and Abdelrahman Salaymeh in Hebron, February 10, 2019.
Josefin Herbach and Abdelrahman Salaymeh in Hebron, February 10, 2019.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

Israel’s demographic obsession is causing it to lose its wits. Israel openly claims that the marriage of West Bank Palestinians and citizens of countries friendly to Israel is a “political issue”, giving it the authority to prevent them from living a normal life with the subjects of their love. This is the essence of the reply given by state attorneys to the High Court of Justice, in a lawsuit filed by a Palestinian from Hebron whose request to unite with his wife, giving her permanent resident status in the West Bank, was denied.

The fact that the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories had even agreed to consider the request was an exception. In 2000, Israel suspended the process of "family unification”, with the excuse that working relations with the Palestinian Authority have been severed in the second intifada. In 2008, following public pressure by Palestinians and petitions to the High Court, Israel approved the unification of twenty-three thousand families, and defined it a gesture to Mahmoud Abbas. It then went back to its policy of denying family unification.

Haaretz Weekly, Episode 19Credit: Haaretz

Security coordination with the Palestinian security forces later returned in full swing, as stipulated in the Oslo Accords. Family unification is anchored in these accords and in Israel’s military legislation, but this is of no interest to Israel’s cabinet. When it wishes to, it relies on what is written in the interim agreements and when it wishes otherwise, it ignores them and invents some new type of handcuffs on normal family life.

>> He’s Palestinian, she’s German, but only an Israeli stamp lets them live together in the West BankIsrael makes it increasingly difficult for Palestinians' foreign spouses to stay in West Bank

The current restriction on family unification is based on Israel defining the issue as “political.” Being a political issue, Israel claims it has the authority to intervene in such marriages. It exercises this authority maliciously, as only Israel knows how. It prevents men and women from living with their families in the West Bank, forbids them from working in the Palestinian Authority enclaves, for Palestinian society and in its institutions, it punishes them by not renewing their visas and uses strange reasons to do so, like that they had passed through Ben Gurion Airport in the past.

Josefin Herbach and Abdelrahman Salaymeh in Hebron, February 10, 2019.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Since this is a “political” issue, tens of thousands of Palestinian families live in a constant state of uncertainty, often anxious that they may have to separate for extended periods and having to live overseas for durations that are hard on financially and emotionally. Some people are asked to deposit tens of thousands of shekels as bond paid to the interior ministry in order to obtain a permit to be in their own homes, based on the excuse that they have violated or may violate the conditions of their visa.

During this entire process they encounter arrogant, rude, imperious Israeli officials who often shout at them. Every male or female partner can attest to the manner in which a female border security guard, who could be their daughter’s age, determines: “You’re lying"- or "do you mean to tell me you have a partner and two children in Ramallah?” (said in a tone implying that the person is lying), or “you’ve been in Israel too long” (even though they reside in Bethlehem!). Political issue, indeed.

The convoluted legal formulations and humiliations at the Interior Ministry and at the Allenby border crossing cannot hide the real reason behind the denial of this right to thousands of people, and for the refusal to approve family unification for someone like Abdelrahman Salaymeh from Hebron and his wife Josefin Herbach from Germany. These two, God forbid, may want to enlarge their family and bring children to the world. Worse than that, they may increase the number of children in the Old City of Hebron, which Israel is trying hard to empty of its Palestinian residents.

This is what attorney Yotam Ben-Hillel wrote in Herbach and Salaymeh’s petition: “The suspicion arises that the real reason behind the decision is a racist-demographic one. Namely, to prevent the inclusion of new people in the population registry in the territories and to encourage others, such as the plaintiff, to leave the West Bank. It’s no secret that Israel is very concerned – almost obsessively so – with demographic issues. In this context there are frequent censuses of the number of Jews and Arabs 'from the sea to the Jordan River' in general, and particularly in the West Bank. Thus, for example, a discussion on June 6, 2017 by the 'Knesset Subcommittee for Civil and Security Issues in Judea and Samaria' was devoted entirely to the number of Palestinians living in the West Bank. During the discussion, Knesset members asked representatives of the Civil Administration to obtain precise figures regarding the number of people registered in the Palestinian population registry, the number of births, the number of children entering first grade, the number of deaths, etc. For obvious reasons, there is no transparency regarding the rationale behind denying family unification. Statements like ‘according to present policies and in accordance with the position of political echelons, requests for family unification in these areas are approved only in exceptional cases’ fail to address the right of the plaintiffs to have a family life, and raise concrete concerns that the ‘position of political echelons’ is based on irrelevant considerations.”

Without trucks or pointed rifles, armed only with legalistic contortions by state prosecutors, control of the population registry and of course, the borders, Israel is constructing another strategy for expelling Palestinians from their land. One of many such strategies. This is why it continues to freeze the family unification process. This is intended not just for existing “mixed” couples but for future ones as well, ones expected to attack Israel with the doomsday weapon of a random meeting or a traditional arranged match, using terror tactics such as falling in love and signing a marriage contract.

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