Taiser Khatib, a Palestinian Israeli citizen, met his wife in the West Bank. It could have been a one of a kind American fairy tale romance: love at first sight, engagement, wedding, two young children, two working parents. It could have been, but for one huge difference. The couple is one of an estimated 26,000 to 30,000 couples with one spouse a Palestinian Israeli citizen and the other a stateless Palestinian born in the Occupied Territories. Because of a recent Supreme Court decision, all of those families face permanent separation. “You can’t imagine the pressure we were going through in the last few weeks,” said Khatib when he learned that his wife would be deported. “This is terror.”
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In 2003 the Israeli Knesset (parliament) passed a law barring Palestinians from the Occupied Territories from living with their Israeli Palestinian spouses. In January 2012 the Israeli Supreme Court upheld this law, preventing Palestinian Israeli citizens from living with their non-Israeli spouses. There is no family unification clause. Supreme Court judge Asher Grunis justified the ruling saying “Human rights do not prescribe national suicide.” Allowing a Palestinian to live in Israel is “national suicide” because Israel must maintain the Jewish character of the state, a character which is more important than either human rights or democracy. When the phrase “Jewish democratic state” is used the question should be raised: which is it? Note that although Israeli Jewish settlers living in the Occupied Territories reside there illegally according to the Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 49, the Israeli law separating thousands of families does not apply to the Jewish settlers.
Before 1948, Palestinian Jews, Christians, and Muslims made up the majority in Palestine. Ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians began before the War of Independence, a well-planned and executed campaign to rid the country of non-Jews. Over 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes and the presence of those who remained within Israel has always been resented by the majority. Their precarious lives have since been subject to discriminatory laws and policies designed to force them to leave.
One example is the Absentee Property Law (1950), stating that the property of any Palestinian who was not present on his property between November 1947 and May 1948 can be transferred to the state. This meant, of course, that those Palestinians who were violently expelled from their homes had no property to which to return. The law is even used against Palestinians who managed to remain in the country. These people are called “Present Absentees,” and the possession of their own property is as insecure as it was in 1948.
The Jewish National Fund was organized to procure land in Palestine for the benefit of Jews. The Land Acquisition Act of 1953 gives the JNF power to appropriate Palestinian lands, on which they planted forests of fast growing, non-native trees. This practice in the years after the ethnic cleansing of the late 1940s prevented Palestinians from attempting to return to their homes, and it continues today. In the Negev Desert today entire communities of Bedouins are displaced, homes destroyed (see for example, this video about Al Araqib), and trees planted in their place.
Discriminatory laws in Israel include the “right” of Israeli Jewish communities to prevent Palestinians from living within the community, and withholding of municipal services (sewer collection, water distribution, electricity, and schools) to Palestinian communities. It bears emphasizing that the Palestinians who are denied basic services are Israeli citizens, people with the right to vote in Israeli elections, yet lack the right to water, and to educate their children. Reminiscent of Jim Crow laws in the U.S. south, we as Americans should shun and revolt against them. Instead, we repeat the myth that Israel is the “only democracy in the Middle East.”
These discriminatory laws and at least 20 others have the same rationale as the ethnic cleansing which began in 1947: to create and maintain an ethnically pure Jewish state. Israel makes no secret of the purpose of the laws or their effects. The UN and international human rights organizations have written numerous reports decrying these racist policies. Raquel Rolnik, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, said recently, “From the Galilee and the Negev to East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the Israeli authorities promote a territorial development model that excludes, discriminates against and displaces minorities, particularly affecting Palestinian communities.”
If an Israeli speaks in favor of a non-violent, ethical, internationally recognized resistance, namely boycotting Israel, he/she can be subject to lawsuits by the 2011 anti-boycott law, a law meant to stifle free speech. The Israeli government prefers violent resistance to the non-violent sort. As Israeli Defense Forces Major General Amos Gilad said, “We don’t do Gandhi very well”. Boycott, a Gandhian non-violent tactic, is especially troubling to Israel, and this fear can be seen by the passage of this anti-democratic law.
No regime should be given a free pass to oppress segments of its population while simultaneously being upheld as a bastion of freedom and democracy. This contradiction should be exposed. People who believe in human rights and justice should be appalled at Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, both citizens and those in areas which Israel occupies. Taiser Khatib deserves the human right to live with his family, in his home, and with dignity.