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No Rights at Home

The Accidental Immigrant

by AMIRA HASS

This past March, 44-year-old Hayan Ju’beh’s tourist visa expired, and he had to travel to Amman in order to receive a new one–a routine procedure for him over the last 10 years. "Three to four days and I’ll be back," he promised his four children.

On the day of his expected return, his wife, 34-year-old Sawsan Quaoud, took their four children to a mall at El Bireh. The kids played games and she sat and watched them, drinking coffee and smoking a cigarette. It was then that she received a call from her husband.

The authorities didn’t allow him to pass through the Allenby border crossing, he told her.

What? At first she thought she misheard him, then she didn’t take him seriously. But he wasn’t joking.

Hayan Ju’beh was born and reared in Jerusalem, and lived there until he left to study theater abroad. He married an Irish citizen (who also has a British passport). In Britain their children 13-year-old Yussef and 11-year-old Sophie were born.

In October 1995 his wife passed away. Ju’beh decided to take the kids and move back to Jerusalem, to raise them among his large local family. The Oslo Accords and the hope of peace provided further encouragement to return to the city of his birth. He found a job working for the Jerusalem office of the MBC television network.

But in mid-1996, when he applied to renew his "laissez passer" travel certificate, which is issued to Palestinians when they travel abroad, Israel’s Ministry of the Interior told him: "You are not a resident."

No rights at home

In December 1995 the Ministry of Interior began implementing a systematic policy of revoking the Jerusalem residency status of thousands of Palestinians who were born in the city, but for whom, according to the ministry, Jerusalem was no longer "the center of their lives"–and therefore their permanent residency permit had "expired." This applied to all those who lived abroad in the past or at that time, as well as those Palestinians who lived in neighborhoods just outside Jerusalem’s municipal boundary. There was no official declaration of this policy. It only manifested itself as such when an increasing number of people discovered at the border crossings or at the offices of the Ministry of Interior that they were no longer defined as residents, and not as Jerusalemites, and were being stripped of rights in their own town.

Ju’beh was one of these people. His attempts to regain residency for himself and his children failed. He was without "identity," without any legal document to prove his existence. Distraught, he applied for Irish citizenship, and received it. Since then he has been forced to leave his homeland every three months, to return as a tourist.

At the MBC office he met Sawsan Quaoud, a Nablus native and a Ramallah resident. In 1997 they married, and settled in Ramallah. In 1999 they established a television film production company; they also had two children. When they lost all hope of Ju’beh regaining his Jerusalem residency, they asked the Israeli authorities (through the Palestinian Ministry of Interior) for "family reunification" in Ramallah. That is, they asked Israel to allow him to become a resident of the Palestinian Authority. Israel did not do so; indeed, in all such cases since September 2000, has put the applications on indefinite hold.

Ju’beh’s two children from his first marriage are also considered tourists by law, and worse–as law-breaking tourists. They did not exit with their father every three months to renew their tourist visas, due to the high cost of such trips and the fact that they would miss school.

After Ju’beh was not let back in, Quaoud ran around for a month and a half between various government offices and lawyers. She called the Irish embassy, where the staff told her they had called the Israeli Ministries of Foreign Affairs and the Interior to protest and asked for explanations, but received no answer. In the meantime, Ju’beh decided to try his luck at the Sheikh Hussein border crossing at Beit She’an.

On May 3 Ju’beh was permitted to return through Beit She’an, but was granted only a month-long visa. Both he and his wife thought they would be able to extend it through the Palestinian Ministry of Interior.

Despite the severed relations between the two sides, in certain cases it is possible to extend a visa for spouses of Palestinian residents without having to exit the country.

However, this is only possible three or four times, after which the spouse must exit again–with no guarantee of return. Exasperated after not succeeding to extend his visa, in early June Ju’beh left for Britain.

Ju’beh decided not to act illegally, as some people do, by remaining in the country after his visa expired, to fight for his right to stay "from the inside." That would have turned him into a prisoner in Ramallah. Indeed when traveling to work outside the city, at every checkpoint in the area, a soldier could have discovered his "crime" and would have the authority to deport him.

Gradually the couple accepted that there was no other solution: The entire family had to leave, and join Ju’beh in Britain.

Quaoud took care of all the arrangements on her own: She dissolved the company she and her husband established, apologized to the six cameramen who had lost their livelihoods, rushed to complete a film she had been working on for the last six months, packed, bid her farewells, and prepared the children for the move–everything in a rush to make it in time to enroll the children in school in Britain.

"We surrendered," admitted Quaoud, on the eve of her forced departure to Britain.

The Israeli authorities that revoked Ju’beh’s residency of his native Jerusalem did not allow reunification with his wife in Ramallah, and finally also decided that even as a tourist, he does not have the right to live in his homeland.

AMIRA HASS writes for Ha’aretz. She is the author of Drinking the Sea at Gaza.