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Love under siege in Gaza

In honor of Valentine’s Day, three tales from Gaza of the impossible conditions for families and couples created by Israel’s closure of the Strip.

By Tania Hary

Israeli soldiers prevent the progress of a symbolic wedding party towards the separation wall near Hizme checkpoint in the occupied West Bank, March 9, 2013. (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

Israeli soldiers prevent the progress of a symbolic wedding party towards the separation wall near Hizme checkpoint in the occupied West Bank, March 9, 2013. (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

To receive a permit to travel to and from Gaza via Erez Crossing, Israel must determine that your reason for travel is humanitarian in nature or that you meet a list of exceptional circumstances (like playing for the national football team or being a trader). Traveling to visit your mother you haven’t seen in 10 years isn’t considered to be humanitarian in nature, unless, God forbid, she’s ill with a fatal condition.

Traveling for the purpose of attending a wedding is possible, but only if the groom or bride is a first-degree relative. Traveling to your own wedding doesn’t count. Gaza, like all other places in the world, is full of people who love. Here are three stories from the Strip, not just of romantic love, but of all kinds of love under closure. The stories stand out for how ordinary they are, on the one hand, and how extraordinary the circumstances are in which they take place.

Kept apart for undisclosed ‘security reasons’

Shadi and Aya were married in the Gaza Strip just before the devastating military operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014. Aya, an American citizen and newly pregnant, was evacuated from the Strip mere days after the operation ended, along with hundreds of other Palestinians holding foreign nationality. She thought it would be a matter of a few short months before Shadi joined her in the United States.

After getting all his paperwork together, Shadi submitted a request to travel to a U.S. immigration visa interview at the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem. The consulate serves Palestinian residents of the occupied Palestinian territories. As part of standard screening procedures, visa applicants must attend an in-person interview in Jerusalem. Residents of the West Bank and Gaza require permits from the Israeli military to attend these interviews; for residents of Gaza it’s much harder and rarer for them to receive the permits due to the closure of the Strip.

From December 2014 to April 2016, Shadi missed three appointments at the consulate either because the Israeli authorities didn’t respond on time or didn’t respond at all to his application permits. Each time he missed an appointment, he’d schedule another one, submit a new application and start the waiting process all over again.

Palestinians gather at the beach at sunset in Al Meena, Gaza City, September 12, 2014. After seven weeks of Israeli offensive, during which most Palestinians were confined to their homes, many Palestinians went to the beach to enjoy some open space.

Palestinians gather at the beach at sunset in Al Meena, Gaza City, September 12, 2014. After seven weeks of Israeli offensive, during which most Palestinians were confined to their homes, many Palestinians went to the beach to enjoy some open space.

The fourth time, even though some of the previous requests had been answered favorably and he simply couldn’t travel because he had missed his appointment, in June 2016, he was told he had been denied exit for “security reasons.” Neither Shadi nor his legal representation at Israeli human rights organization Gisha know what “security reasons” make him ineligible to visit the U.S. Consulate, nor why it took so long for these security concerns to be raised given he had been approved for previous permits. Gisha filed a court petition to try to find out; a hearing was set for today, Valentine’s Day.

In the meantime, Aya gave birth to their son, Ahmed, a beautiful, healthy boy who has yet to meet his dad. This Valentine’s Day marks more than two years that the couple are apart.

A groom at the border checkpoint

Our very first loves are our parents and parents say their biggest loves are their children. The same held true for a woman, who we’ll call Anhar, 46, and her son, who we’ll call Mohammed, 21.

Mohammed’s father is an Israeli citizen, so Mohammed was entitled to Israeli citizenship from birth. Anhar, a Palestinian resident of Gaza, only holds Palestinian residence. Several years ago, Mohammed chose to make his life in Israel; as a young man starting out, he figured his financial prospects would be better there. He kissed his mother goodbye and promised to visit — a common scene around the world.

Uncommon, however, is the fact that both Anhar and Mohammed would have to request permission from the Israeli authorities to visit one another, proving that their reason for doing so is humanitarian enough to warrant that permission, even though they live just a short drive away from one another. The wedding of a first-degree relative is just such a humanitarian reason, according to Israel’s criteria for travel of people through Erez.

Mohammed met and fell in love with his bride-to-be a few years after arriving in Israel and they decided to get married. Anhar wasn’t able to enter Israel for the sake of meeting her future daughter-in-law, nor to attend the engagement party. But she was eligible to attend the wedding itself, nothing more. Anhar needed assistance with the process of requesting a permit, pushing to get an answer on time so she’d make it to the wedding, and then when she got held up at Erez Crossing the day before the wedding so that the authorities would let the poor woman through.

Palestinian demonstrators hold a mock wedding during a nonviolent demonstration in the West Bank village Al-Ma'asara, July 31, 2009. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Palestinian demonstrators hold a mock wedding during a nonviolent demonstration in the West Bank village Al-Ma’asara, July 31, 2009. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

At 6pm, when the crossing had officially closed for exit, Mohammed sat in the parking lot waiting for his mother, while his bride and all their guests were waiting for him back in their hometown at the henna party (which takes place the evening prior to the wedding). Finally, Anhar emerged and the two were united for a brief few days of celebration and happiness.

Ignoring the facts of life

Mr. and Mrs. H. were married in Gaza in 2010. They both dreamed of having children and were looking forward to raising a family together. For several years, the couple tried unsuccessfully to get pregnant. They began fertility treatments, first in Gaza and then in the West Bank. The couple, who luckily had the means to afford it, were determined to keep trying and decided to try to take advantage of advanced treatments only available in the United States. But to get to the U.S. they would need visas, and to get visas, the two of them would need to first travel to the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem for visa interviews.

They applied for permits via the Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee, while Gisha appealed to the Israeli authorities on their behalf, citing their determination to fulfill the most basic right of trying to have biological children of their own. A week later, the army responded that only the request of Mrs. H had been approved. The following day Gisha appealed, to the effect that when it comes to making children, if the army wasn’t aware, it takes two to tango. A few days later, the army caved and approved the request of Mr. H as well. The couple traveled to Jerusalem and their visa requests were approved — the first step to fulfilling their wish for a family.

Tania Hary is the executive director of Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement. A version of this post was originally published on Gisha’s blog, and is reprinted here with permission.

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    COMMENTS

    1. i_like-ike52

      Israel’s closure of the Strip has exactly one guilty party…the HAMAS regime that keeps its population in a permanent state of mobilization for war with Israel. HAMAS just picked a notable super extremist as its new leader. That shows they don’t care about the welfare of the population there not a whit.
      I have no doubt that if Israel were to enter the Strip and oust the HAMAS regime, the majority of the population would welcome the IDF as liberators for at least a few days.

      Reply to Comment
      • Baladi Akka 1948

        “I have no doubt that if Israel were to enter the Strip and oust the HAMAS regime, the majority of the population would welcome the IDF as liberators for at least a few days.”
        Not only you’re a fuckig racist, but I just realisez you’re genuinly a sick person ! Why dont you GFY

        Reply to Comment
        • Mark

          No need for IDF to enter the strip. The poor, benighted residents of Gaza will have another chance to choose their own government next time the Palestinian Authority holds a general election. There must be one coming up soon.

          Reply to Comment
    2. Itshak Gordin Halevy

      As soon as the Hamas recognize Israel as a Jewish State and as soon as they make peace with Israel, as soon as they free their Israeli hostages the borders will be opened. In spite of the war, Israel allows tracks to enter in the terrorist entity.

      Reply to Comment
      • john

        a ‘jewish state’ is a theocracy.
        if a decade of siege hasn’t changed anything, more siege must work!

        Reply to Comment
        • i_like_ike52

          I suggest you read the Palestinian, Egyptian and other Middle Eastern states’ constitutions. They all define themselves as ethnocentric Arab states and have Islam as the state religion, all of which lead to discrimination against non-Arabs and non-Muslims. If that doesn’t bother you, than the existence of a Jewish state shouldn’t bother you either.

          Reply to Comment
          • carmen

            ‘israel’ has kept a population under an apartheid occupation for decades. No other country, defined or not, is doing this in the 21st century. israel is a loose cannon among the nations, not a light at all, especially to it’s own. israel stands alone as an amoral, illegal occupying entity. It’s racism alone isn’t enough to be judged by, many other larger, modern western countries are as racist or less racist but that doesn’t give ‘israel’ the right to exist as an occupying force. Egypt doesn’t have it’s non-Muslim people under lock and key. ‘israel’ stands alone at this time in this criminal, unholy enterprise.

            Reply to Comment
          • i_like_ike52

            Israel is the only 21st century country that is facing threats of annihilation from its neighbors. An Iranian general recently threatened to wipe out Tel Aviv. Iran’s leaders, who are working feverishly on nuclear weapons, routinely scream “death to Israel” and say Israel is “going to disappear”. Even in countries that Israel has “peace agreements” with, Jordan and Egypt, have their media filled with genocidal antisemetic propaganda. Abbas, “our peace partner” has called for Palestinians to kill Jews, and praises and honors terrorists who target Israeli citizens.

            Reply to Comment
          • carmen

            You should invest in a refresher course in hasbara – still using the 1.0 version. Of course, speaking of iran, which everybody does, the open declarations by the zionist state to bomb iran are okay? Like on the other thread, incitement from jew to arab = h’kol b’seder. Incitement from arab to jew = nuclear war!

            As Nuclear Talks Near A Deal, Israel Threatens To Bomb Iran
            https://thinkprogress.org/as-nuclear-talks-near-a-deal-israel-threatens-to-bomb-iran-80

            And we can’t forget netanyahooos junkets to the u.n. and congress with his demands:
            * Netanyahu in 1992: Iran close to having nuclear bomb | Informed …
            http://www.juancole.com/2012/…/netanyahu-in-1992-iran-close-to-having-nuclear-bomb.ht
            * Netanyahu’s Iran Blunders – The New York Times
            http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/25/opinion/roger-cohen-Netanyahus-Iran-Blunders.html
            * Netanyahu draws red line on Iran’s nuclear program | Reuters
            http://www.reuters.com/article/us-un-assembly-israel-iran-idUSBRE88Q0GI20120927

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “Israel is the only 21st century country that is facing threats of annihilation from its neighbors”

            Not true. Israel faces no existential threat. That is hackneyed propaganda. I can think of at least three others that face greater genuine threats. South Korea, Taiwan, and the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Yes, the latter are not “a country,” but that is because the country that threatens them occupies them. And they face a truly existential threat each day in the form of the settlers and their handmaidens. The existential threat the Palestinians face is far greater than the threat Israel faces.

            Reply to Comment
          • John

            theocracy is always wrong, no matter what religion.
            but the siege of gaza is what, warranted? useful? helpful?

            Reply to Comment
    3. Bruce Gould

      “Council of Europe condemns Gaza siege as collective punishment”:

      http://www.maannews.com/Content.aspx?id=775101

      The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted a report on Tuesday outlining the dire humanitarian situation in the besieged Gaza Strip and reiterating its support for lifting the decade-long siege of the territory, which it called “collective punishment” imposed on Palestinians in contravention of international law.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Itshak Gordin Halevy

      They have just chosen an ugly terrorist and soldier killer as leader and you want us to kiss them?
      Ridiculous..

      Reply to Comment