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Families Interrupted – Adalah opens an exhibition in support of victims of Israeli racist citizenship law

I have a neighbor. He is a quiet man, working hard in construction and after work he would stay with his family. You rarely even see him in the neighborhood. One morning I saw him sitting in the street – he had a story to tell.

He is from Jenin. He married in Hallisa (our Haifa neighborhood) and came to live with his wife here. They are already married for some twenty years but he couldn’t get his papers right. As the occupation gets old, so do many of its victims. So, that night, my neighbor felt his heart was betraying him and hurried to the hospital. Apparently it was not that bad. After checking him and verifying that he was no dying, the doctors in the hospital called in the police, which, at 3:00 am, drove him to Jenin (some 45 km south east of Haifa) and threw him on the other side of the army block. In the morning he was already back in Hallisa, but didn’t go to work, so I had the chance to hear the story.

I wondered about the doctors. How the hell would they call the police to take the man in the middle of the night? Many healthy people would have a heart attack just to see the police at such an hour, to say nothing about being thrown away beyond the army lines in the middle of the night. My neighbor survived this experience – but probably the next time that he will feel his heart stuttering he will think twice before going to the hospital – so he actually may die from this harsh experience.

* * *

Today (6/6/2013) – as Adalah was opening a photo exhibition about the lives of victims of Israeli racist citizenship law – I learned that the doctors that called the police to take my neighbor were not alone. Apparently they were “just following orders” – or working according to the standard procedure in Israeli hospitals.

Fatma, the women that agreed to tell the attending public about her plight, was not expelled like my neighbor. She is a special case – she has a court order preventing her deportation. (Probably this is why she agreed to talk while most other victims prefer to stay anonymous). But she told how, just two hours after she was operated on in an Israeli hospital, police was coming to arrest her and throw her in the Palestinian Bantustan. She needed the fast intervention of her lawyer to be released.

* * *

The fact that Adalah, The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, moved from the legal struggle against the law in Israel’s Supreme Court to sponsoring a photo exhibition is a vivid illustration of the failure to defend the most basic Human Rights within the legal framework of Apartheid Israel. The law passed initially in 2003, banning family unification of Israeli citizens with residents of the 1967 occupied territories. It was justified as a temporary “security” measure at the height of the second Intifada. The courts, at the first hearing, had hard time justifying the allowance of such temporary measure of “collective punishment” and wholesale denial of rights to take place.

Since then the law was extended for already ten years and expanded to prevent family unification with citizens of some other Arab countries (and Iran). The security pretext gave way to the openly racist “demographic” motivation. Most Israeli legislators got used to enjoy the political benefit of being openly racist and the courts were packed with more right wingers and settlers and stopped blushing while giving its stamp of approval to openly racist laws.

* * *

The Citizenship Law stands out as a symbol of inhuman cruelty – even among Israel’s long array of racist laws – despite the tough competition. Maybe because the right to family life is such a basic thing that we are all used to take for granted. Forcefully state intervention to separate husband and wife, preventing them from living together with their children – well, any of you can imaging how much it undermines the very basics of human lives.

Another daunting aspect of the law, which was described in detail in the exhibition photos as well as in the stories that we heard at the opening, was the way that the devil of racism settles as a permanent influence in the middle of each home of the “interrupted families” – and there are about 15,000 – 20,000 families directly involved. And the devil is also in the details: Children that can’t visit their grandparents that live a few kilometers away; being forbidden from driving a car; being denied medical treatment. Sometimes the devil of racism enters the victims themselves – we were told of women that suffer from a violent husband but don’t dare to complain – or to run away – as they might be expelled and not allowed to see their children again.

* * *

There was some good news also: As of 2013, even as ethnic cleansing is still the main Israeli goal, it should be easier for people with only temporary entry permit to find a legal job. So medical treatment is still a taboo – it is a clear offence against Israel’s Jewish identity and danger to its Democratic Jewish character – but oiling the wheels of Israeli capitalism is another thing.

* * *

All the speakers in the ceremonial opening failed to give even a glimmer of hope. They tried everything over the last ten years and there is no way to change the law. There is no way that the Jewish state will be democratic (or just human) for other people also.

What they failed to say was the most obvious thing: If the system is uncorrectable it should be abolished and replaced by a better one. In a united democratic free Palestine, everybody will be able to marry his choice of heart and live with the people he chooses. (How come we forgot to write this in the ODS program? Sure only because it is too obvious to need writing…)