The Israeli occupation state makes every effort to disrupt and break up the social fabric of Palestinian communities, leading to domestic disorder. Sundry procedures have been implemented curbing the ability of separated Palestinian families to reunite. Despite this, Israel fails to break the spirit of the steadfast Palestinians who are committed to defending their inalienable rights.
The occupation state often interferes in the lives of the spouses of people who it is targeting for one reason or another. Forcing couples to divorce is a common violation against international law, yet despite the gravity of such a move and the effect on Palestinian society, it is rarely, if ever, reported in the media.
Former Palestinian prisoner Shu’aib Abu Snaineh was forced by the Israeli occupation authorities to divorce his wife so that she could enjoy her life in occupied Jerusalem without being harassed continuously. Abu Snaineh, 55, was freed from prison and although he comes from occupied Jerusalem, he was “deported” to the Gaza Strip. His wife was prevented from joining him there. The occupation state, he says, has made his life a “living hell” since his release.
“My wife was not allowed to stay for more than three months with me here in Gaza, because if she stayed longer then she would lose her rights as a citizen of Jerusalem,” he explained. Every time she went back to Jerusalem from Gaza she faced humiliating and difficult journeys through Israeli checkpoints and crossings. When she gave birth in a Jerusalem hospital, the Israeli authorities refused to issue a birth certificate for her baby boy. The family spent 13 months in expensive legal action before a certificate was issued.
The Israeli occupation authorities went so far as to prevent Abu Snaineh’s family from visiting him. Eventually, they told his wife that they would not deal with her and her children as citizens with the right to live in Jerusalem as long as she remained married to Abu Snaineh.
“I divorced my wife because I love her and I want my family to enjoy their life,” said Abu Snaineh, “yet I know that the occupation will never leave them alone until all Palestinians have been expelled from Jerusalem.” The decision caused a lot of grief to the whole family. “It was a severe and very difficult decision, but I had no choice. Whatever Israel breaks or destroys, though, it will never kill the love in our hearts and the attachment to our homeland.”
Abu Snaineh’s story is not unique. Another former prisoner from Gaza, Hasan Nattat, and his wife from the West Bank went through a similarly difficult situation that was unreported in 2016. When Nattat’s wife went to visit her family in 2009, the Israeli authorities prevented her from going back to Gaza. All attempts to get her back failed. She was then diagnosed with cancer and he was detained by Israel. This was the start of a particularly difficult period. At every Israeli checkpoint — there are more than 600 across the occupied West Bank alone — she was subject to degrading interrogation by Israeli occupation soldiers. When she sought potentially life-saving treatment at a Jerusalem hospital, the occupation authorities refused her permission, and insinuated that divorcing her husband would allow her to be treated in Jerusalem.
“I was dumbfounded, but I divorced her for the sake of her getting treatment and her survival,” said Nattat. However, the treatment didn’t help. “I was not even allowed to see her one last time before she died.” The pain has never left him. “Each time I remember her I die a thousand times inside. Nevertheless, the Israelis think that they can disperse us physically but they will never disperse Palestine from our hearts and minds.”
In 2003, the Israeli occupation government passed Resolution 1813 prohibiting Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip from gaining residential status in the Zionist state or occupied East Jerusalem through marriage, thus preventing family members from living together if one spouse came from elsewhere.
In fact, separating family members seems to be a devious Israeli scheme to destroy the social fabric of Palestinian families beyond Jerusalem and Gaza. Suzan Owaiwi is a former Palestinian detainee from Al-Khalil (Hebron) and a mother of three. The Israelis detained her husband and asked him to divorce his wife and stop her from political activism; she was a candidate in the 2016 municipal election.
“The Israelis threatened me many times to stop my political activities,” she said. “Then they detained my husband to put pressure on me. My husband told them it was my wish to be politically involved and he couldn’t stop me.” She says that an Israel official told her husband, “How could you as an Arab Muslim man leave your wife this way? You should divorce her.” Her husband refused to do this, and she won the election. After a year in her new position, she was detained by the Israelis for 12 months. She was freed in 2019.
Throughout the long Israeli occupation of Palestine, there has been a dark history of the regime separating family members. Physical separation has been one way to do this; killing spouses has been another.
The biggest fear for Israel is Palestinians uniting both socially and politically. Splitting families and keeping townsfolk apart makes it harder for Palestinian heritage, history and even identity to be passed on from one generation to another.
Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, said about the Palestinians following the Nakba ethnic cleansing in 1948, “The old will die [and so will their memories of what happened] and the young will forget.” Israel has employed this concept in its strategy of keeping the elders away from the young people within Palestinian families and society. It is using family separation as a cynical, cruel tactic in its effort to tear Palestinian society apart.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.