Linah’s parents together in March, 2009
Yesterday my mother crossed the Allenby bridge, from the West Bank to Jordan, to see my father in Amman. What makes this banal act unusual is that she had to wait almost a year to be finally granted permission to cross the border.
Last year my brother wrote about my family’s series of unfortunate events which began in August 2009 – how we went from being British citizens living in our homeland on my dad’s one year work renewable visas, to plain old brown Palestinians forced to accept our Israeli-issued identity cards in order to be classified as ‘legal’ residents, which resulted our own mini diaspora. My brother and father, both born in the Gaza strip, have Gaza identity cards which of course bans them from entering the West Bank, where we were living. My mother, despite being from the city of Albireh in the West Bank, was also inexplicably issued a Gaza ID, despite her owning her original West Bank ID. My younger brother and sister and I have West Bank ID’s, as we were registered under my mother’s original ID, further contributing to the confusion and idiotic regulations manned by the Israeli military. Subsequently, my father spent his time between Lebanon and Jordan, and my brother began new chapters of his life in Qatar and Virginia. They couldn’t come to us, and while my siblings and I could cross over to Amman (which served as our meeting point) my mother could not do the same.
The new astonishingly racist Israeli military order 1650 which was first used in April of this year only made matters worse. My mother was now regarded as an ‘infiltrator’. If caught in the West Bank, she could have faced up to seven years in prison or be deported back to Gaza. As her children, we would obviously follow her footsteps, because Zionism does not like the presumptuous notion of Palestinian families choosing where they want to live and raise their kids in their homeland. This past year has been terribly nerve-racking. Our emotions were taken on a non-stop rollercoaster ride-highs and lows and periods of blank insecurity.
My mother knew beforehand that her West Bank ID changed into a Gaza one and was already in contact with Gisha, the Israeli non-profit organization whose goal is to protect the rights of free movement of Palestinians, before calamity fell upon us in the shape of my father’s arrest at Erez checkpoint, where he had crossed many times before. Gisha then wanted to focus more on my father’s case and bring him back to the West Bank. That amounted to absolutely nothing, so in January, a month after my father was finally allowed to leave Gaza to work in Lebanon, my mother resumed contact. She wanted a piece of paper that would grant her access to the border crossing. After 11 months, her coordination paper finally came.
Waiting wasn’t easy. I had to deal with my parents’ unwanted and forced separation, and watched as my mother lost weight and woke up every day with puffy eyes. We’ve had skyping sessions with my father, which was such a bittersweet experience. My father had to go through his life without his wife or children with him, and sometimes this despairing emotion overwhelmed him. Of course we all kept in regular touch with each other-technology is beautiful in that way. I’ll never forget how we both broke down one time over the phone after I confessed that the only reason I was going through with university was because I knew how much joy and pride it would bring to him when I’d graduate, and how now it wouldn’t even matter because he wouldn’t be at my graduation. I felt like a kid with divorced parents, “Ok are you going to spend Eid with Baba or here?” It wasn’t fair to leave my mother all alone on holidays, and it wasn’t fair for my father to be all alone either. I hated it. I hated the law enforcers of Israel so much. I hated the collaborative PA regime, I hated the Zionists, I hated being torn apart in my mind, I hated how after living in England and the UAE and the USA, coming back to our homeland eventually was what resulted in our bleak estrangement.
My mother signed up for consecutive months in a gym and in a way, that was her catharsis. Every week she’d call Gisha to see where their progress was heading, and every single time she received the same answer: In a couple more weeks we’ll know for sure, next month, give it one more week, and another. Summer arrived, and with it more arising uncertainties. My father was having a really tough time coping by himself, and wanted us with him, permanently. My frustration grew. Transferring to another university that would post pone my graduation by up to two semesters? Pulling my sister out of her high school in her senior year to a different one? All of this, in our least favorite city in the world, Amman? It was too much. Selfishness wasn’t what I was going through, I managed to convince myself. I just couldn’t live in Amman. It’s another thing I hate. Then one day, we got into contact with a lawyer. This lawyer said that in exactly a month, give or take a week, he’ll have my mother’s correct West Bank ID with him. We were tentative. But a given timeline was better than a forever extended one. My mother chose to go with the lawyer, and suspended talks with Gisha. Unfortunately, this particular lawyer was the definitive kind with upholding standards. He called one Thursday in June, and told my mother that by Sunday the latest, she will finally have her West Bank ID. I had my friends over for a barbeque that day, and I had never felt so relieved, so happy when I heard the news. Sunday came and went. The next day, after calling him multiple times, he finally had the virtue of picking up and informing us that sorry, but there was nothing he could do. We were back to square one.
Talks were resumed with Gisha. Why was it taking so long? The coordination paper only takes a month to be issued! However, it took two months before the proper clerk in the PA told my mother that her coordination paper was rejected. She immediately got in touch with Gisha, who throughout this whole time were dealing with her ID problem, and they agreed to take over the coordination matter. They spoke in such a manner that led my mother to pack her suitcase. This was in August. The green suitcase was smack dab in the middle of her bedroom, and it was almost fully packed. She was hopeful that a breakthrough would come at last. She called my dad and asked him what he wanted from here, and she bought three kilos worth of roasted nuts. I watched as those bags went into the suitcase, then out again a few weeks later. Then some hack from the PA’s Ministry of Interior called to say that there was nothing they could do from their side to change the Gaza ID into a West Bank one. I couldn’t understand where my mother’s optimism was coming from.
Two weeks later, we finally received the long awaited news. The coordination paper was out, and the Israeli military finally, belatedly admitted that they made a mistake in her address in her ID. They issued a permit that would now make it ‘legal’ for her to live in the West Bank, for six months. During that time, her correct ID should hopefully be given to her.They would correct, and this is important-correct not change-the address from Gaza to the West Bank. Now we could all see my father and brother (when he manages to get a few days off from work) in Amman, back and forth, on holidays, occasions, whenever we want. The green suitcase now included fresh roasted nuts and my father’s books for his research work. My mother busied herself at a salon, and came back with a new hairstyle, eye liner, and a smile that was beautiful and young in nature. A year and 3 months apart, reunited again tonight.
Yesterday, I received a call from my parents. Hearing both of their voices, talking excitedly at the same time, in the same room was music to my ears. My sister and I wanted to know the full details-did you both cry? I bet you did! What was it like, seeing other? What did you first think of? Are you holding hands now? Does Mama look any different to you? What did she say about your bald spot? Yes, we’re doing ok, we have enough food for three days. Can’t wait until next week (Eid al-Adha break) where we can be together again!
Our case in general is not a unique one. Who could forget the student studying at Bethlehem University, with only three credits to graduate, being arrested at a checkpoint and deported to Gaza because of her insidious crime of not owning the proper ID card? Or the many husbands and wives torn apart from each other and their children? Israel is running amok with its proud Apartheid stance, and I strongly believe that BDS is the sure path to toe Israel’s line. Israel’s wretched controlling of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories is of course illegal and not an action fitting for its ‘democratic’ nature. With awareness there comes boycott, and with boycott there comes international pressure, and with international pressure, there comes the breakdown and elimination of the Apartheid and occupying laws that have ruled us with an iron fist for too long now. My family’s story is still not complete, as my older brother and father still cannot be granted access to the West Bank. It is especially difficult to be uprooted from your homeland once, imagine how it feels like to go through the process twice.
Justice for Palestine.
Linah Alsaafin is a third-year student at Birzeit University in the West Bank, where she is studying English Literature. She’s been living in Ramallah, West Bank since 2004, and despite being only 50 miles away from her grandparents and uncles in the Gaza Strip, she hasn’t seen them since 2005. Alsaafin was born in Cardiff, Wales, and was raised in England, the United States, and Palestine.