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Al Haq’s director Shawan Jabarin discusses a new report exposing the complex system of restrictions Israeli authorities impose to control access to Palestinian territory and to stop family reunification. The consequences is to slowly force Palestinians out to preserve a Jewish majority in areas controlled by Israel

Story Transcript

MARC STEINER: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner, it’s great to have you all with us.

The human rights organization Al-Haq, based in Ramallah, just published a new report. It’s called “Engineering Community: Family Unification, Entry Restrictions, and other Israeli Policies of Fragmenting Palestinians.” Now, this report details how Israel uses a tiered ID system round the clock, surveillance as well as that, to decide which families in occupied Palestine can actually live together and which cannot, who may or may not be allowed to enter the occupied territories at any given time, and who may return or not return after leaving, whether it’s for school, or for work, or for visiting family.

The Institute for Middle East Understanding issued another report, gathering some testimonies from visitors to Israel and Palestine who were denied entry. Let’s hear a short segment from that report. And these are testimonies from Americans.

SPEAKER 1: The questioning caught me really off guard. I was like no, I’m not Muslim, brother.

SPEAKER 2: I tell her I’m going to Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, she makes this gesture about like the way I’m dressed, and she’s telling me, “You, like this, are going to Tel Aviv and the beaches? That makes no sense whatsoever.”

SPEAKER 3: They said that they thought I was lying and that if I didn’t change my story, that I would be deported.

SPEAKER 1: He had me write down my grandfather’s name, my father’s name, these American-ass, Jeffrey Thomas, Lewis Thomas, I don’t think it’s what he’s looking for.

SPEAKER 3: They asked me to open my phone, which I refused to do.

SPEAKER 1: “What activism do you do?” I was like, “I don’t really do activism, I’m a teacher, bro.” He was like, “I don’t know if you know what I do. I sit at this desk and catch terrorists.”

SPEAKER 2: After she’s finished looking through my things, she starts yelling, really out loud, “You’re either a terrorist or a liar.”

MARC STEINER: And as I said before we saw this, these were voices of Americans who were denied entry, not allowed to visit friends and family in the occupied territories. But perhaps even more insidious and serious is what happens to Palestinians on either side of the divide. As a result of policies, the rights of Palestinians interferes with their right to choose who they wish to marry, where they wish to live. Those denials come at a much steeper price and violates human rights on a much more fundamental and deeper level.

We are joined today in this conversation by Shawan Jabarin, who is the General Director of Al-Haq and the Vice President of the International Federation for Human Rights. In 2011, he was appointed to the Human Rights Watch Middle East Advisory Board, and in 2013, he was elected as commissioner for the International Commission of Jurists. He received the Reebok Human Rights Award in 1990 for his defense of freedom of expression and human rights, spent time in Israeli prison, and former President Jimmy Carter is part of the reason that he is also a free man at this moment. And welcome, Shawan, good to have you here at The Real News.

So maybe we can start, if you can explain to us in a little bit more detail than I gave, what this tiered ID system is, how it works, and how this had to do with amending the Israeli citizenship law which prevents family unification if one spouse is from the occupied territories and another spouse is from Israel proper.

SHAWAN JABARIN: I think this is part of the policy, because the Israelis, they are targeting also the Palestinian existence and their presence and their territory, and their policy is to minimize the Palestinian presence also in the West Bank and Gaza, as you know, the occupied territories. Just I would like to give you a figure which does not, I think, exist in this report. Since 1960 till 1990, more than 120,000 Palestinians, they lost their residency in occupied territory. They left for just work, for study, for others and the Israelis revoked their IDs and they couldn’t come back any more. And even if you just take into account that the average of the Palestinian families are six and seven persons, the 120 now reached like one million people that are outside.

They were here in the occupied territory, I’m not speaking about those that fled and those that became refugees outside. I’m speaking about those that were here in the West Bank in the 70s and 80s but they left for different reasons and they couldn’t come back. This is part of the policy. And here, I think, the family is targeted by the Israelis, because the family unity also is targeted. And in all the constitutions and laws, family unity is basic things, it’s like a fundamental right. But here, for Palestinians, no. It’s something targeted, it’s not easy to get you married, for an instance, from inside Israel. You come together, for instance, in one place that you wish to live in, Ramallah or in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, it’s impossible for you. Because in many cases, they were divided because of that.

These days, you are speaking about thousands of families divided, part of them in Gaza, and the rest of the others in the West Bank. And they couldn’t see each other. If they want to apply for even a permit, the Israelis said that it doesn’t come under the criteria of humanitarian criteria. This is what they call it. And also, the rest, let me say in Jordan or other places outside the West Bank, that they couldn’t see each other, except if they wanted to go, for instance, to Jordan to visit them or to be married. This is part official. Another thing is the foreign internationals, those that get married with Palestinians, the Israelis, they don’t allow them to stay with their spouses, for instance, the visa is an issue, the permits to stay is an issue. In some cases, they send them back from the airport, they deny their visas and their permits.

And yeah, I’m not speaking about isolated incidents or cases. And many internationals, for instance, many of them are Americans. Americans, Palestinians, or their spouses, let me say from the U.S. And the U.S. consulate that that time in Jerusalem, they mailed and they complained, for instance, to the congressmen and the others. They tried to help them, but still, there is a big, big case.

MARC STEINER: So in part, just very quickly, just so our viewers can really understand. So if, for argument’s sake, I was a Palestinian man living and born, say, in Haifa, and I fell in love with a woman from Ramallah, and we wanted to get married. This law, the way it’s written, we couldn’t live together if they decided that they were not going to allow it. Is that right?

SHAWAN JABARIN: Look, if you’re from Haifa and she’s from Ramallah, there is no guarantee, for instance, to allow her to stay with her husband in Haifa, and there’s no guarantee, for instance, to give her citizenship. There is no guarantee, for instance, to register their children. And it takes a long time sometimes, and by a long time, I mean years and years, fifteen years, something like that. This is an issue and this is a case. Now it’s a big, big case, because the Israelis, they forced in what’s called the Family Reunification System. They suspended it since 2001, and until today, they don’t do anything for the spouses that get married from both sides. They are Palestinians, but at the same time it’s not easy for them to stay in one place.

MARC STEINER: So if I was born in Nablus and went to study in Paris, I might not be allowed back in.

SHAWAN JABARIN: Look, if you speak about Paris and Nablus, the one from Nablus, he has to go or she has to go to Paris, but there’s no guarantee, for instance, the one who is from Paris to come back and to stay with his or her partner in Nablus or in Ramallah. That’s the case. Because of that, I think they designed this policy to push you outside. If you want to stay together, you have to look for a place outside of the country. That’s, I think, this is my analysis, this is our analysis from a long-term study of this subject. For instance, if she is from Jerusalem or he is from Jerusalem, and she wants to come to Ramallah to live with her husbands in Ramallah, there is no guarantee to keep her residency, for instance, to keep her ID. And if revoke her residency, which she can’t go back to Jerusalem anymore to join her family or to take her husband with her to see and enjoy Jerusalem.

And why Jerusalem, because Jerusalem is targeted by the Israeli’s policies. They try to push Palestinians outside of Jerusalem, to the border. This is also clear in the policies, this is clear in the planning, this is clear in the demography, this is clear in discrimination and treatment of Palestinians in Jerusalem.

MARC STEINER: So to understand this thoroughly, just very quickly here, but the reports seem to say that the controls and restrictions, which is really authorities placed on people who try to visit the occupied territories. For example, I’ve read they’re sometimes required to carry a large sum of money in order to pay for entry, however they are described, to be allowed to enter, and that that money may not be always be returned to them if they comply with the conditions or said that they did not comply with the conditions correctly. So talk about how this is a violation of rights, when foreigners are not allowed to visit them. I mean, it seems to me that this could become a much larger international issue, because it’s not just involving Palestinians, but it could involve anybody from any country, especially the United States, who want to come visit and aren’t allowed in.

SHAWAN JABARIN: A visit is not an easy thing. For Israel, they are dealing with the occupied territory as closed territory, and the military commander who is in charge and responsible for their entry to this area. And because of that, when they give them a visa sometimes, they say that this visa is valid only for West Bank only, which it means that you have no right to go to Jerusalem, when Jerusalem is part of the West Bank and part of the occupied territory. Another kind of visa, for instance, if you want to come through, they ask you many questions. If you want to go to friends, for instance, to visit friends in the West Bank, in Hebron or Ramallah as well, and if they feel that you will visit, there is no guarantee to give you a visa, for instance, to enter even Israel and after that to come to Ramallah. And they ask you many, many questions.

And if they find that there is a relation, I mean marriage relation or relative relation with anyone in West Bank, it’s like impossible sometimes to give you even a visa to enter there to visit, or to stay, or to join your family there. It’s not an easy issue. Because of that, sometimes people, they try to find another way to go around of that, to take, for instance, with them different telephones for friends in Israel or Jerusalem. Or they say, “We would like to go to visit some places there as tourists, and this country, we love it, we like it, we like Israel, we love Israel.” I know of friends who did that just to allow them even to come to visit their them. If they find your name, your name is an Islamic name or an Arabic name, or any relation of that, this is also another story.

Even your face, sometimes. If it shows them that you have looks like Arab or something like that, maybe your face also has problems. Even many internationals, they face a problem because of their color or their face is like an Arab. And maybe you heard about the Jewish guy, he looks like Palestinians, and they stopped him, which they discovered later on that he’s a Jew, originally from Morocco. That’s unusual. This is the hardest part of discrimination, part of the mentality against the occupied population and even anyone relating to that.

MARC STEINER: So very quickly, a final question here. And at what you just said, I smiled a little because I was thinking that whether you are Jewish or a Palestinian Muslim or Christian, people look a lot alike. It’s not so easy, sometimes, to tell people apart. But recently, the Israeli government has come out with attacks through the Jerusalem Post and other places, attacking Al-Haq and your ties, allegedly, to terrorist organizations. And so, talk a bit about that controversy going on. What’s the root of that? I mean, they’re not arresting you and putting you on trial, it doesn’t seem, but convincing donors to cut funding to Al-Haq. And so, talk a bit about that conflict from your perspective.

SHAWAN JABARIN: Look, I say a few words at that. One, this is part of a smear campaign. This is an organized campaign to undermine Al-Haq’s work, and also because in their point of view, we crossed the red lines. Now we are cooperating strongly, actively, with the International Criminal Court to bring and to hold the criminals accountable for their crimes. I think, in the Israeli mind, this is red lines we have not to cross. We have to keep just speaking about human rights and nice things, but not to cross that red line to go after the criminals.

Now, connecting that with against me, I can say a few words. One, if they have anything against me, let them bring me before court. The only thing I ask for is due process and fair trial, if they have anything, in their minds. But this is part of a ridiculous story that they created, that they tried to use it all the time. It will not undermine us, even if they spent millions of dollars these days, if they also released many official reports on the reports. And in my point of view, what they are doing now is like a character assassination. They are pushing with things in the Internet all the time, because they can’t challenge our information, they can’t challenge our professionality, for instance.

At the same time, they want to silence us. To silence us for what? Because we are reporting and asking for accountability. We are asking for justice for Palestinians. We also call for equality, we are asking to treat Palestinians as human beings with rights. That’s the issue and that’s the case. Let them challenge our legal arguments, let them challenge our information. They haven’t challenged our information since the beginning of the establishment of Al-Haq in ’79 until today, not one time challenged our information.

Lastly, because of that, I think they have a fear that this is a credible organization. Everyone listens to this organization, we have good connections everywhere all over the world and everyone listens to us. Our reports received very well by the international institutions, by judiciary bodies. I think that’s what makes them furious from our work and also other organizations. And lately, also they are against even any activists. These days, the word anti-Semitism, anyone who criticizes Israel is anti-Semitic. I think this is what undermines the anti-Semitism in the eyes sometimes. Anti-Semitism is an issue, is an issue. We have not to mix it with the freedom of separation, we have not to mix it with the criticism of a state. Anyone can criticize a state for it’s wrong. These days, even the name Jewish Voice for Peace in the U.S. is anti-Semitism, which is a ridiculous thing. I think it’s a time to distinguish between this smear and to distinguish between the freedom of expression.

MARC STEINER: Shawan Jabarin, thank you so much for joining us here at The Real News today. I appreciate you taking the time, I look forward to other conversations with you. Thank you.


MARC STEINER: And I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network, thank you for joining us. Take care.

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Host, The Marc Steiner Show
Marc Steiner is the host of "The Marc Steiner Show" on TRNN. He is a Peabody Award-winning journalist who has spent his life working on social justice issues. He walked his first picket line at age 13, and at age 16 became the youngest person in Maryland arrested at a civil rights protest during the Freedom Rides through Cambridge. As part of the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968, Marc helped organize poor white communities with the Young Patriots, the white Appalachian counterpart to the Black Panthers. Early in his career he counseled at-risk youth in therapeutic settings and founded a theater program in the Maryland State prison system. He also taught theater for 10 years at the Baltimore School for the Arts. From 1993-2018 Marc's signature “Marc Steiner Show” aired on Baltimore’s public radio airwaves, both WYPR—which Marc co-founded—and Morgan State University’s WEAA.