I’m Israeli. My husband is Palestinian. We fear we can never go home
By Mya Guarnieri Jaradat
* – The Washington Post
The past few weeks have left us more hopeless
past two weeks, watching the escalation of violence in Israel and the occupied
Palestinian territories from my home in Florida has been horrifying and
heartbreaking. I’m devastated by the deaths of Israelis and
Palestinians, as I have been every time these clashes take place. But the level
of intercommunal violence this month feels worse than anything in recent
gas fired inside the al-Aqsa Mosque compound, waves
of Hamas rockets fired at Israeli towns, Israeli
airstrikes devastating neighborhoods in Gaza City.
One moment, in particular, stands out in my mind: Last week
in Bat Yam, just south of Tel Aviv, a group of Jewish men set upon a car driven
by an Arab man, pulled him out and beat him. According
to Haaretz, the man survived, but in widely shared video, you
can hear commentators using the word “lynch” to describe the scene as it
Any feeling person would have been disgusted and terrified,
but as I watched the footage, I felt nauseated as I realized: He could be
I’m American Israeli; my husband, Mohamed, is a Palestinian
from the West Bank. We met there, in Ramallah, but when we decided to marry in
2014, we knew the challenges we’d face legally, socially and economically.
Because of Israel’s prohibition of
family reunification between its citizens and Palestinians from the
occupied territories, there’s a likelihood we wouldn’t be able to legally live
together inside Israel. Shortly after we married in Florida, I submitted our
marriage certificate to the Israeli Consulate in Miami to update my status, to no
avail. If we ever wanted to live in Israel, other mixed couples told me, we
would have to apply annually for a permit to reside together; and that even if
granted, such a permit might not allow my husband to work inside the country.
It’s not clear that we would be able to live in the occupied territories
together legally — in his family’s building outside of Ramallah, in part of
as Area A. Not to mention the cultural taboo: When Mohamed told his parents
that he intended to marry me, a Jewish woman who immigrated to Israel, his
father rejected the match, meaning that we wouldn’t be able to live in the
family home anyway. We realized we had no choice but to leave the land we both
love dearly. While my husband has been clear-eyed about the decision and has
always said we won’t be able to go back until there’s peace, I’ve held onto the
hope that we’ll return and raise our two children there, among family and amid
the olive trees, limestone alleys, foothills and sea that we hold dear.
But the fighting this month has left me hopeless. I now feel
that our exile is permanent, that going back isn’t an option; that my husband
and our mixed children wouldn’t be safe if we lived inside Israel and that my
life might be in danger in the occupied territories.
Of course, we weren’t thinking about any of this when we
fell in love.
We met in 2011, when I went to Ramallah for a
story. A fellow journalist introduced us, and we ended up working together
on the piece. We kept in sporadic touch over the next year and a half, with
Mohamed serving as my interpreter for a couple of other articles, including a
heart-wrenching story about
Palestinian families who’ve been split between Gaza and the West Bank. Little
did we know that a few years later we would end up in a comparable situation,
with Mohamed forced to leave his extended family in the West Bank to start a
life with me.
By the time we began dating in early 2013, in addition to
freelancing, I was teaching at a Palestinian university in East Jerusalem, Al
Quds University. I lived, for half of the week, in the Palestinian village of
Abu Dis. I was in my third year of studying Arabic. I felt some level of
integration into Palestinian society that made me feel that anything, including
peace, was possible, if remote. And the early days of our relationship only
reinforced that. At school, my students and I read centuries-old literature
from Islamic Spain, a time and place where Jewish and Muslim cultures nourished
one another, flourishing together. Outside school, Mohamed and I had picnics in
olive groves and sipped tea on a rooftop, overlooking the West Bank. From our
spot, we could see all the way to Jordan. From that view, we couldn’t tell
where one place ended and the other began.
But at the same time, my courtship with Mohamed and my work
at the university were characterized by limitations and inequality. I saw how
Jewish settlers were free to move in and out and through the Palestinian
territories and checkpoints as
Green Line didn’t exist, while Mohamed had to either apply for a
permit or sneak through a hole in the security fence if he wanted to spend the
day with me in Jerusalem. I felt this when I traveled to the university in Abu
Dis or to Ramallah to visit Mohamed, using segregated
transportation to move through the territories that are ultimately
controlled by Israel. At the university, I felt the pain of my students, some
of whose fathers and brothers were imprisoned under administrative
detention; some of whose homes had been raided by Israeli authorities; some
of whom had been in cars that were pelted by stones thrown by Jewish settlers.
On more than one occasion, Israeli soldiers made incursions
onto campus, firing tear gas and breaking windows.
We’ve been in the United States together for more than six
years; my husband is now an American citizen. We’ve built a life here — a home,
a small business, children. And even though I grew up in Gainesville, in some
ways, the United States has never felt completely like home. If, let’s say, my
current outlet decides it needs a foreign correspondent in Israel, I’d go in a
heartbeat; if we decide we no longer want our children to grow up apart from
their cousins; if we miraculously save enough money to retire; or if the laws
in Israel change and we could live together legally and safely — and if the
country stops its awful march to the right, we’d return.
But with each Israeli bullet or Hamas rocket, every report of
destroyed Palestinian businesses or of a synagogue set on fire, all
the ifs increasingly seem insurmountable.
A cease-fire has
been in place since early Friday morning, but lasting peace won’t hold without
tremendous, systemic changes. We’re beyond those superficial programs that
bring Jews and Palestinians together in dialogue. Sadly, there aren’t enough
friendships across ethnic lines — and even if there were, friendship isn’t
enough. It’s not even enough to love each other: Mohamed and I love each other,
but to preserve ourselves and our marriage, we had to leave his homeland, my
adopted country. We live half a world away, safe from the latest round of
bloodshed, but at root is the same issue: devastating and persistent
inequality. Without addressing the laws that give Jewish Israelis privilege
while stripping Palestinians of their human rights, there’s no way for Jews and
Palestinians to live together peacefully.
I’ve read a lot of thoughtful, intelligent analyses about
the most recent escalation, pointing to the raids
at al-Aqsa, the evictions
of Palestinian families in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh
Jarrah or the awful incentives
of Israel’s domestic politics. But all of these arguments trace back to
systemic inequality, a two-tiered legal system that permits unchecked expansion
of Israeli settlements and keeps Palestinians in a perpetual limbo of
statelessness on their own land.
Yes, there’s violence from the Palestinian side. And yes,
Palestinians have, over time, missed opportunities to exact and to make
concessions. But consider how the peace process has become a farce. Consider
how Palestinian homes are punitively demolished. Consider the unequal
allocation of water resources in the West Bank. Consider the shortage
of classrooms in East Jerusalem that can keep some Palestinian
children out of school or forces their families to scrape together the
pay for private school.
The list goes on and on.
Inequality is what allowed me, a Jewish woman born and
raised in America, to immigrate to Israel while my husband’s Palestinian
brethren who fled or were expelled from the land can’t return. It’s why, as a
mixed family whose story began there, we may never be able to return.
*Mya Guarnieri Jaradat is a religion reporter
for the Deseret News and the author of “The Unchosen: The Lives of Israel’s New