By Carol Daniel Kasbari
After fifteen years of waiting, my husband and I have finally begun our life together. We have left Jerusalem for good.
I am a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship, raised in Nazareth. My husband is also a Palestinian, but unlike me, he is not a citizen of Israel. In fact, he is not a citizen of any country.
I met my husband, Osama Kasbari, in Ramallah in 1997 when I was a student at the Hebrew University, and the connection was immediate. After that first meeting, we spent three hours talking on the phone - about life, identity, language, home - and within a year, we were married.
We began the process of building a normal life, applying for "family unification," a process under which non-citizens married to Israelis could gain temporary residency status and further on down the line become permanent residents or citizens. At the Interior Ministry office in Nazareth, we were told that the process would be quite simple: We were to live inside of Israel’s borders, pay taxes, obey the laws and within four years, my husband would be granted permanent residency. This is what we were told, and this is what we believed, so this is what we did.
My husband was granted an Aleph/5 permit, a temporary status which enabled us to live together. He was one of those “good Arabs," according to the Shin Bet, who reviewed our application to renew his permit. Every year, before the permit expired, I would spend an entire week on the phone, until I finally reached the clerk who would schedule an appointment for us at the Interior Ministry. The grilling would begin on the phone, and end in a day-long visit to an office where we submitted a pile of papers that revealed every detail of our life: Three months of a protracted, demanding and exhausting process. It involved explaining every move and every payment we made. We felt we were at the mercy of clerks and strangers who passed judgment on our life choices. My husband couldn’t leave the country, buy a house and or even open a bank account or pay his own cellphone bill.
In 2003, weeks before my husband was scheduled to receive permanent residency, our dreams were shattered, along with other Palestinian couples like us. On July 31st, 2003, then-Interior Minister Eli Yishai successfully passed the "Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law (Temporary Order)" which categorically denied Palestinians from “the hostile areas," meaning, Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza, the ability to receive residency or citizenship as a result of their partnership with a citizen of Israel.
The initial reason provided was purportedly connected to security: One man in such a situation had been involved in a bombing in Haifa. The law was scheduled to last for a year, with the option to be renewed for an indefinite period at the end of the year. No other Palestinian who is in a family unification process has acted any act of terror or assault since 2003, yet the emergency law has been renewed every year until this day.
We were devastated. We had come so close to achieving some degree of normalcy for our family, which by then had expanded to include my two little boys, and suddenly we found ourselves waiting, again, for a political decision that would directly affect our personal lives.
And we tried everything to change it: We appealed to the Interior Ministry; I met with people involved in politics, people of influence with whom I worked with as facilitator for groups in conflict. Everyone would say, yes, yes, that’s terrible, but they would not lift a finger to do anything for us. One senior consultant for the government told me, “You know, Carol, this is the most sensitive issue for the Jewish people, the demographic one. It will be very hard for anyone to help you.”
Eventually, we filed a petition to the Supreme Court. The judges, too, expressed sympathy for our case. They said it was terrible, it was unfair, that we deserved better, and they suggested to the State Attorney that we find a compromise outside of the court that would allow my husband receive permanent status. The latter rejected this suggestion immediately: If we find a compromise with them, he said, we will open up the floodgates, and set a “dangerous precedent.” Our appeal was rejected.
So was this law truly about “security,” or was it about demography? In 2012, the Supreme Court collectively rejected every appeal against the law. They acknowledged that the law violated the principles of equality, but, as Judge Asher Grunis wrote, “[H]uman rights are not a prescription for national suicide,” referring to the “demographic threat” to the Jewish State posed by people like my husband. The treatment of our issue was humiliating and dealt with as a disease and a threat to Jewish existence. We couldn’t tolerate it anymore.
This year, after 15 years of waiting and struggling, of living with insecurity, fear, and harassment, we decided that enough was enough. We did not renew my husband’s temporary residency. Instead, we left the country and started looking for a permanent life in a place where would be welcome, wanted and respected. We moved to the United States, and bought a house in Virginia, something we had realized we may never have been able to do in Jerusalem. We knew this decision would possibly carry life-long consequences, as my husband would not be allowed to return to Jerusalem or Nazareth anymore. I have given up my right to bring up my boys in this country or to live my life close to my family and friends. I haven’t given up on my Palestinian roots or on my homeland, but on the suffering of being minority in a country that doesn’t respect the rights of others who are not Jewish.
Now, when I return to Jerusalem for a visit, I feel numb. My family – and the thousands of other families like ours - had to make the choice between a normal, full life abroad and a temporary life in our homeland. That is a choice no family should have to make.
Carol Daniel Kasbari is a conflict transformation specialist and veteran facilitator for groups in conflict in the Middle East since 1995 and has spoken about her work in this TEDx talk in Jaffa. Born in Nazareth, she holds a Masters degree in NGO Administration and Public Policy from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is pursuing Ph.D studies at George Mason University in Conflict Analysis and Resolution. She currently lives near Washington, D.C., with her husband, Osama Kasbari, and their two children.