american in palestine

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

just married

i just got married to the person i love...this is supposed to be a joyful moment.......the happiest in my life, right? ..but instead of feeling all the joy that occasion should bring, i feel dread, worry, uncertainty, fear.

not because of the marriage, no, that part is great....but because of the fact that our future together is in the hands of powers outside of our control. not knowing whether we will be able to live together, or for how long, due to visa restrictions, is an extremely worrisome thing.

our journey through visa-land is a long and frustrating story, and the source of all our worries can be summed up in a single word: israel.

in all my years of travelling, through dozens of countries throughout the world, i have never EVER seen a process so circular and confusing, so constantly changing, and so set up for failure as the Israeli process.

i feel like a rat in a cage. like everywhere i turn the options are cut off, the walls around me are growing higher and higher, and no one can give me any information as to what to do or how to respond to this situation i'm in.

we applied for a visa for my husband to come to the US, but that process takes several months. in the meantime, my 3-month tourist visa for israel was due to expire, and we had to either figure out how to get it renewed or leave the country and come back, as we did in july.

we opted to apply for renewal, but for a territory that is under complete military occupation by the neighboring country, and whose infrastructure is totally and completely non-operational since government workers stopped working in march due to a complete cutoff of the aid money that was meant to pay their salaries, well, such a thing is easier said than done.

i went to jerusalem (waking up at 5 am, because I had to pass through the checkpoint with all its uncertainty) with all my paperwork filled out, went through the massive security systems, multiple metal detectors, long lines behind concrete barriers and israeli soldiers with guns shouting orders in hebrew (this was the ministry of interior for 'arabs' in jerusalem - very different from the one in west jerusalem, for jewish israelis), i took a number and waited for my turn. well, i thought, there are only 20 numbers until mine, this shouldn't take long. five hours later, i finally had my turn, and was immediately told that I could not file for renewal at this office, I had to go through the palestinian authority, because my husband is palestinian.

well, i tried to explain to the woman that since israel has cut off relations with the palestinian authority, and choked their source of income, there IS no palestinian authority.....but she wasn't hearing it. when I asked for details on how to proceed with this process, specifically written instructions, or a written policy, she told me, "ask the palestinians, they will tell you how they do it" -- a common refrain i have heard many times from israelis in positions of power, who apparently consider the palestinian rumor-mill of 'he-said-she-said' and stories about so-and-so's aunt mary and what she did when she had to renew her visa, a more reliable source of information than any official policy issued by the israeli government. but there's a simple explanation, which is that the israeli government doesn't HAVE a set policy - that allows them the flexibility to change the rules quickly if they don't like your face, and never have to back it up with written documentation, they just make up rules on the spot and that is what governs your life if you happen to be a palestinian (I'll get back to this theme later).

so i left the fortressed high-security building and paid the taxi driver sixty dollars to get me back to bethlehem, blinking back tears of frustration as we passed back through the checkpoint (much easier to get IN to the west bank than to get OUT, I thought ironically, as the israeli soldiers waved us through with our israeli-license-plated taxi and my foreign face....).

and set about the arduous, and ultimately impossible process, of 'ask the palestinians how they do it'. we began this journey at the palestinian ministry of interior, which was, of course, closed. not just partly closed, but completely, totally, dust-on-the-shelves closed. the gates were welded shut (so no renegade employees would dare to go to work during the strike), and in the most classic and complete sense, we were S.O.L.

after a week of calling around, we finally managed to get the phone number of an employee of the interior ministry in ramallah, who agreed to come in for one hour the next day to help us and a couple other people in the same situation. so we got up at 5 and headed for ramallah.

i should point out here that ramallah is directly north of jerusalem, while bethlehem is directly south. so the quickest route would, of course, be to go through jerusalem. which is what palestinians have always done. until, that is, the last five years, when israel has declared jerusalem 'off-limits' to palestinians (despite the fact that 250,000 palestinians LIVE in jerusalem), and has systematically gone about closing off all access to jerusalem, splitting neighborhoods by the Wall, expanding 'jewish-only' settlements in east jerusalem, and cutting apart families, friends and neighbors in a blatant attempt to unilaterally SEIZE all of jerusalem to make it part of israel. since no international body has attempted to stop israel, this illegal takeover has progressed quite quickly, and palestinians caught in the middle have had no one to turn to for help.

Israel has always claimed that the 'question of Jerusalem' should be left to 'final-status negotiations' of any peace talk. whereas the palestinians have always demanded that jerusalem is a key issue that should be FIRST on the agenda of any peace talks. since there are no peace talks currently in the works, israel has seized the opportunity to take over east jerusalem (in violation of every signed agreement and UN resolution) and make it a de facto part of israel, so that if and when 'peace talks' ever start up again, they will use the fact of the existence of 140,000 israeli settlers recently moved into east jerusalem (with more construction being done every day) as a 'fact-on-the-ground' that indicates the 'jewish character' of east jerusalem, and demand that it be made part of israel. with no one on the palestinian side to argue (at least not from any type of position of power -- instead of 'bargaining' during peace talks, palestinians end up 'begging', because they have no bargaining power - no economic power, no political power, no social or societal power, they don't even have sovereignty, and certainly don't have military power)......well, israel will end up getting what they want.

for us, this meant that instead of a fifteen-minute drive (which is what it would take an israeli settler driving on 'jewish-only' highways), it took us three hours......driving over a one-lane road along cliffs and up and down canyons in the middle of the driest desert - a road called Wadi-Nar, which has become an infamous symbol among palestinians of their forced relocation by israel. the road is of course, full of traffic - massive trucks delivering goods, service taxis stuffed full of people.....no private cars are allowed (apart from the 200 'businessmen' licensed by israel to be able to drive between the different parts of the west bank).....precariously swinging around the curves of this dangerous road, honking, bouncing through potholes....eventually we make it to the first checkpoint, perched on the edge of a cliff in the middle of nowhere. it's known as the 'container' checkpoint to palestinians, as it was originally just a shipping container from a truck, with a few soldiers stopping traffic along the road. now it's a full-blown terminal, with metal detectors and a military building, huge concrete barriers and razor wire. and lots of palestinian taxis and trucks (no private cars) waiting, on both sides, to be allowed through.

i'll spare you the details of the rest of the trip - suffice to say that being forced to drive through residential neighborhoods (with over fifty speedbumps in one three-mile stretch), when there are perfectly good highways speeading by overhead, that you are not allowed to drive on because they are for 'jews only'......well, it's enough to make a person feel sick.

finally in ramallah, we discovered we had to drive from one office to another, to a bank and back again, to get a stamp then go to another office, get a signature and back to the original office -- all of these offices and banks of course being on opposite ends of town....and with it being, ironically enough, the day that condoleeza rice was meeting with the palestinian president in ramallah, well, the traffic was impossible, and half the roads were closed. but we finally managed to get through this dizzying array of stamps and forms and made it back to the original office just before our lone employee took off.

but lo and behold, all of our work was in vain.....one look at the form and my husband's id, and the employee told us that the visa renewal application would not be accepted by israel, because our marriage had not been added to my husband's (israeli-issued) id card.

and of course, id cards were a separate department altogether, and one which did not have a lone employee willing to step in and break the strike for an hour to help us through this.

discouraged and frustrated again, we headed back through the checkpoints and the long and winding wadi-Nar back to bethlehem. it was dark by the time we returned, and we were exhausted.

just a sidenote about the palestinian identity cards - every palestinian is issued one at birth by israel, and the card goes inside a plastic cover, and _must_ be carried at all times by palestinians (reminds me of south africa and the 'pass laws'). it used to be that anyone who had been to prison (that is, nearly half of all palestinian adult males) had to keep their id in a green cover, while palestinians who had not been to jail had an orange cover. so when there were round-ups of all men in a town or neighborhood (as there often are), those with green id cards were pulled aside and put in jail again. so once you were taken prisoner once, no matter if you were guilty or innocent (there's no court system for palestinians to argue their side, anyway, so no way to prove one's innocence), well, you were screwed for life. now, ALL palestinians have a green cover.....which strikes me as rather ironic, being that, with the apartheid wall now almost completed, all palestinians are in fact in an open-air jail.

so with our efforts for visa renewal at an impasse, we began making plans to go to jordan (the neighboring country) and return back again so I could get a new visa. recently, however, israel has been implementing a policy of denying entry to anyone with a foreign passport who they suspect will be visiting the palestinian territories (israel controls all palestinian borders). this possibility, that i would not be allowed back in, and would be stuck in jordan, is extremely worrisome, and very possible.
here's a washington post article about the issue:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/10/22/AR2006102200853.html
(sorry their stupid ad blocks the first paragraph. it is:
"Stricter Policy Splits West Bank Families By Scott Wilson
RAMALLAH, West Bank -- The last time Adel Samara saw his wife, Enayeh, was the morning in late May when she pulled away from their home in Beit Ur in a taxi bound for the border. Her trips to Jordan had become routine, never lasting more than a few days.")

a number of other articles and accounts of denials of entry are listed here:
http://electronicintifada.net/bytopic/443.shtml

if you want to get involved in trying to change this outrageous new policy that is essentially emptying palestine of foreigners, see:
http://www.righttoenter.ps

and sign the petition here:
http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/226243893


in any case, we went through a process equally as harrowing as the visa-renewal process in order to get permission for my husband to go with me to jordan (we didn't want to be separated, with the strong possibility that I wouldn't be allowed back in). but when the application came back, there, handwritten on it in some 18-year old Israeli soldier's handwriting: the dreaded words.....Mamnua Shabak (in hebrew - by the way, all forms filled out by palestinians must be in hebrew -- which means paying someone to fill it out for you, in most cases, as most palestinians don't know hebrew).

Mamnua Shabak = Forbidden by the Israeli Secret Service.

words that are very easy to have added to one's ID number, and very, very hard to have removed. my husband's cousin found out, after being denied passage a number of times at west bank checkpoints, that she had had these dreaded words added to her ID.....this was three years ago. she hired an israeli lawyer and has been working since then to have the dreaded words removed.....but to no avail. no reason was ever given, no accusation was made, she's never been arrested, shot or anything, but the words are now attached to her ID number....impossible to remove.

in a militarily-occupied territory that is ruled only by the arbitrary and always-changing flow of 18-year old draft soldiers, there is no legal procedure or process that one can turn to....there is only the latest whim of the latest shift of soldiers (half of whom, it seems, are incompetent, the rest either willfully aggressive or simply do not care).

in talking to an israeli activist from the group Machsom Watch (Machsom = Checkpoint in Hebrew), she revealed to us that through their research, they have found (though the military will not admit this openly) that every palestinian who has been shot or injured by the israeli military, under any circumstances, becomes 'mamnua shabak' for the rest of their lives (my husband, you may recall, was shot in 1991 in his spine). the victim cannot sue or hold his shooters accountable in any way, but instead, the person who is now handicapped for life is also punished with the dreaded words, which will pop up on any israeli military computer in connection to their ID number, for the rest of their lives. Not only that, the activist told us, but their family members are also punished, with their brothers, sisters, parents and children also receiving the dreaded words 'mamnua shabak' on their ID numbers as well.

which explains why my husband's brother was denied permission last year to visit their other brother who lives in germany, despite the fact that the german consulate had issued him a visa to visit. and also explains why my husband's mother was denied permission to go to jerusalem to pray at the church of the holy sepulchre (in accordance with her religious tradition as a christian) last christmas.

and now, to top it all off.....we just received a letter from the american consulate in jerusalem that my husband has an appointment for his visa........at the american consulate in jerusalem (yes, that's right, jerusalem, which is now 'off-limits' to palestinians). we applied to the israelis for a permit for him to be allowed to go to jerusalem for the appointment, expecting that it would be denied. it was.

the americans are complicit with israel in the unjust israeli restrictions on palestinians. they could easily set up an office in the west bank, and one in gaza, to allow palestinians to have access to their consulate. instead, due to politics, they refuse, and palestinians end up having to risk their lives crossing illegally into jerusalem in order to reach their appointments at the consulate. i asked at the consulate how they expect palestinians to reach them, and the response was, "some get permits, and some come over the hills and we don't know how" -- !!! that is to say, the _official_ line from the US consulate is "we refuse to provide a way for palestinians to reach their appointments with us. instead, we expect them to sneak past the military occupying forces, risking their lives, in order to reach their appointments."

I wrote a letter to the consulate, saying, in part,
"I must admit that I am rather surprised that the Israeli military should be allowed in this way to intervene in U.S. affairs - the Israeli military are, in this way, the de facto determinants of who is and who is not allowed to receive a U.S. visa."

so now we are stuck.... in indecision and uncertainty....like millions of others of palestinians and their spouses....who live without legal status in a world where sovereignty is everything, without recognized property rights for land they have lived on for centuries, and with no power to change their condition (no political, economic or legal power).....in the largest open-air prison on earth.


depressed yet? if you need more fuel for your depression, here are some links:

an op-ed i wrote about a poll showing that over half of israelis believe torture is acceptable:
http://www.imemc.org/content/view/22171/117/

---------------

israeli use of experimental 'mystery weapons' on palestinian civilians:
http://www.palestinechronicle.com/story-101906113427.htm
"Doctors in Gaza have reported previously unseen injuries from Israeli weapons that cause severe burning and leave deep internal wounds, often resulting in amputations or death."

----------------

Top CIA expert on radical Islam slams Bush 'anti-terror' program
http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=34825
"Nakhleh said that the Bush administration's tactics had 'lost a generation of goodwill in the Muslim world' and its Middle East democratisation programme 'has all but disappeared, except for official rhetoric'."

----------------

Civilian deaths soar to record high in Iraq
http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,,1878474,00.html
"Manfred Nowak, the UN's special investigator, said torture was 'totally out of hand' and might even be worse now than under Saddam Hussein. 'You have terrorist groups, you have the military, you have police, you have these militias. There are so many people who are abducted, seriously tortured and finally killed,' he told reporters at the UN's Geneva headquarters. "The US military had initially claimed a dramatic drop in the Iraqi death toll for August, but the estimate was revised sharply upwards after it revealed that it had inexplicably left out figures for people killed by bombs, mortars, rockets and other mass attacks."

So what did the UN find in their investigation? Seven THOUSAND civilians killed in the last two months, and that doesn't include the most violent regions, Ramadi and Falluja, where they were unable to get accurate counts.

--------------

After September 11, the U.S. threatened to 'bomb Pakistan to the stone ages' if they did not do exactly what the U.S. told them to do
http://www.guardian.co.uk/pakistan/Story/0,,1878619,00.html
---------------

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

<< Home