Consecutive Israeli governments have ensured that Palestinians in Israel are not able t0 bring their spouses from the occupied territories. For average Palestinians, that has meant heartache.
Last week, the Israeli parliament voted down an extension to the “Ban on Palestinian family unification law”, a controversial legislation that bars Palestinian citizens of Israel from extending residency or citizenship rights to Palestinian spouses from Gaza or the West Bank.
The racist law was introduced in 2003 as a temporary emergency legislation to “prevent terrorists from residing in Israel.” All Israeli governments since then have extended it every year. But this time, with the newly formed government, a rare sequence of events and circumstances saw a tie on the vote of extension, which essentially meant the racist law had been voted down.
And don’t let the clean Israeli terminology fool you: that law reeks of racism and is clearly derived from Jewish supremacy.
In an effort to prevent a change in the demographic ratio between Jews and Arabs in Israel, and under the guise of “security reasons”, the Israeli government had legislated a law against, well, love.
We Palestinians suffer from a wide array of discriminatory Israeli laws in housing, planning, travelling and work issues. But this rarely talked about anti-love law was perhaps one of the most inhumane. How can you prevent people from the same nation from falling in love and starting families?
To understand how absurd that idea was, let me describe as a Palestinian citizen of Israel (we call ourselves “48ers” because we were occupied in 1948) my love-hate relationship with my fellow Palestinians, the “67ers” (the people who were occupied in 1967, the West Bank and Gaza).
My father used to travel to the West Bank a lot due to his line of work in construction.
He had Palestinian employees from several places in the West Bank. As a little boy, I used to love accompanying him on his drives to Ramallah and other cities. We lived in Lyd, a binational city — used to be Palestinian before ‘48, now Jews and an Arab minority live in it — a mere 30 minutes away from Ramallah, but crossing that checkpoint felt I was travelling to another country.
I used to love going to Manara Square, the main city square, with my dad. In the pre-Oslo days, the Israeli army was still very present in all of Ramallah. I remember how we used to walk to a random store and leave a few minutes later to see the young men who, moments ago were just walking outside, now fully masked and throwing stones at Israeli army Jeeps and soldiers.
My father would grab me quickly, throw me in his car and we would drive away.
I remember watching the dramatic clashes from the rear window while my dad, who somehow always remained calm, drove away like we were in a car chase in a movie. There were loud shooting sounds, shouting and smoke, but the man kept his composure. That always looked so cool to me, like John Mclane from Die Hard, but without the cigarette.
Those masked men always looked so brave to me. They would confront heavily armed soldiers bare-chested. Even to a little boy, that clearly looked like the good guys versus the villains, even without understanding the political context.
The Oslo Accords came, and our visits to the West Bank became more frequent. My father would take my sister and me to visit his employees’ families. It was important to him that we play with their kids.
We lived just half an hour away, but their games were so different from ours. They were always so nice to me, which I liked at first. After many visits though, I started to realise that maybe they just wanted to be nice to the boss’ son.
At some point, I started hating these visits. I also started to understand what the occupation meant, so my respect for the ‘67ers remained, but my love for these visits disappeared.
As a student in the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, I rediscovered my love for nearby Ramallah, even though I still had to cross checkpoints. As a dumb kid in his early twenties, it was refreshing to discover the Palestinian nightlife.
I was used to the one in Tel Aviv, which was only 15 minutes away from where I grew up. Don’t get me wrong — I’ve always hated Tel Aviv, this synthetic and plastic city. To my Israeli friends, I’d exaggerate and describe Ramallah as this oasis of parties and a rich cultural life.
Half of it was lies, but it didn’t matter. I wanted them to know there was a place just for us that they can’t get to, and I wanted them to get jealous.
Single Israeli men and women can go to bars in Tel Aviv and meet people. Well, guess what? I could do the same in Ramallah — a city with no shortage of impressive women. As a young bachelor only looking to have fun, I remember thinking to myself after meeting a girl: “There’s no way I’m bringing her home to meet my mom.”
But people grow up. But over the years, even immature me started to feel really weird after meeting an interesting woman in Ramallah. Remember what I used to tell myself? Well, funny how the same exact words composed a completely different sentence now: “There’s no way to bring her home to meet my mom.” That’s what I started telling myself. I started realising how the occupation not only prevented our actual freedom but also the freedom to love whomever we choose.
The city I used to love became the city I now hate.
How can you love a city you’re not allowed to fall in love in?
I hate Ramallah, because the occupation made me. I hate Ramallah, because it’s a giant cage that imprisons my friends who can’t even come and visit but instead call me on FaceTime so I could show them from my apartment balcony views of Carmel mountain and the sea, and how beautiful Haifa is — a city they’re not allowed to visit.
Even though the ban on family unification has been voted down, it could make a comeback with the next racist Israeli government. God knows there’s no shortage of these.
It is too soon to celebrate because we still don’t have the freedom and certainty to do whatever we want and love whomever we want.