Aug 03 2006

Trouble at the Border

Published by at 6:23 am under Blogs,Personal

The following appeared in the New York Times TimesSelect section under the heading in the Line of Fire

August 2, 2006, 9:31 pm

By Daoud Kuttab, Ramallah, West Bank
For about three hours on Tuesday, I was really concerned. My sister Grace and her four children were traveling from Jordan to see relatives in the West Bank using the northern Jordan-Israel crossing point. The source of my concern was a news item I saw on TV saying that a Hezbollah rocket had fallen on Bisan in northern Israel. Bisan, literally on the other side of the border crossing that the family was about to reach, is now called Beit Shean and is 100 percent inhabited by Israelis. I was debating whether to ask them to turn back or or let them take their chances. When I finally called Grace on her cellphone, she told me that they had almost reached the crossing point. I told her what was happening. She said that they wanted to continue on. I then advised her that once they crossed into Israel, they should drive quickly south towards Jerusalem. I never expected her be denied entry by the Israelis for a completely different reason.

Grace and her family, United States citizens who live in Brooklyn, N.Y., were excited about visiting our relatives in the Palestinian town of Beit Jala. Her husband, Khader El Yateem, Lutheran pastor of Salam Arabic Church in Brooklyn, who was required by Israeli authorities to travel a different route, has not seen his many relatives for over eight years. The last time he tried ­ some four years ago to attend the funeral of his brother-in-law ­ he was not allowed to enter. He was told by the Israelis that he could not use his American passport, only his Palestinian travel documents. This time, the El Yateem family was careful to play it by the book. Pastor Khader, with his Palestinian travel documents in hand, went to the Allenby Bridge, while the rest of the family went to cross in the north. My sister, like other Palestinians born in Jerusalem, has never had any Palestinian documents because Jerusalem was annexed by Israel and is therefore considered part of it.

For two hours, my sister and her children stood in the hot sun at Israeli passport control. She later told me that she could see smoke billowing not far from the border. Without an explanation, an Israeli police officer came up to my sister with her and her children’s passport and told her that she was denied entry into Israel and that this denial applied to all crossing points. He turned around and left without giving an explanation and without responding to my sister’s repeated requests.

When she opened her United States passport, my sister, who was born and raised in Jerusalem, saw that she was no longer allowed to return to her birthplace, not even with a passport of the world’s superpower and Israel’s best international friend.
While I was relieved that my sister and her family would not risk traveling near Bisan as Hezbollah rockets were being launched, my sister was angry that her children would not be able to see their relatives in Palestine, and visit Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, the birthplace of Christ
It seems that there are constant attempts to shroud the Arab-Israeli conflict in military terms, political jargon or historical arguments. We must strive, despite this, to remember the human element in this conflict


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