Osama Zatar, an Arab, and Jasmin Avissar, a Jew, met and fell in love at the animal shelter near Jerusalem where they both worked.

But after the two 25-year-olds married in 2004, they found themselves entangled in a web of laws that prevent them from living together as husband and wife.

Israelis are legally forbidden to enter Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank known as "Areas A", for security reasons.

Conversely, the Nationality and Entry into Israel law, introduced in 2003, forbids residency or citizenship to any Palestinian from the occupied territories married to an Israeli.

Against the law

So Avissar could not live in her husband's home in Ramallah and he did not have a permit to visit her in Jerusalem.

"Our love is a major security problem. In Israel there is this sacred word called security and everything falls into that category. But the right to live with your spouse is a basic human right and it is not being respected now"

Jasmin Avissar

This week, the Israeli Supreme Court upheld the Nationality and Entry into Israel law.

Justice Mishael Cheshin said: "During a time of war, a state has the right to prevent the entry of enemy citizens into its territory, even if he is married to a citizen of our state."

The court had reviewed the law following a petition by Adalah, the centre for minority rights in Israel, asking it to denounce the law as unconstitutional and an infringement on human rights.

Adalah says the law affects thousands of Palestinian Israelis with husbands and wives from the occupied territories.

Campaigners say it also affects an untold number of children denied the right to be raised by both parents. 

Murad Al Asana, a lawyer for Adalah, said: "It is very clearly discriminatory, nobody who sees this law can say otherwise."

Three-month reprieve

In March, Avissar was granted a brief reprieve: A three-month entry permit to Ramallah.

Meanwhile, the couple has filed a petition to the Israeli Supreme Court, requesting that they be allowed to live together, permanently.

"Our love is a major security problem," says Avissar, sitting next to Zatar in a cafe in central Ramallah.

Israeli checkpoints keep Israelis
in and Palestinians out

"In Israel there is this sacred word called security and everything falls into that category. But the right to live with your spouse is a basic human right and it is not being respected now."

Although a 2005 amendment to the Nationality Law in theory grants men over the age of 35 and women over 25 temporary permits to enter Israel to visit husbands or wives, advocacy groups say security concerns are cited to overrule the privilege.

"Since July 2005, less than 50 out of the thousands who applied received such permits," says Orna Kohn, lawyer and acting general director of Adalah. "The amendments are basically meaningless."

In any case, Osama would need to wait 10 years - when he is 35 - to apply for such a permit.

"It is my government's duty to let me bring my husband to my country, not to banish me," says Avissar. "I was a model citizen, I served in the army, paid taxes and tried to contribute to society. But the minute I married Osama, I was tossed aside."

Welcoming families

But while the law attempts to deter their union, their families have supported it.

Zatar's mother welcomed Avissar into the family, although his father took a year to accept his new daughter-in-law.

Avissar's family and friends in Jerusalem all welcomed her husband. "I didn't break any taboo, as I was brought up to treat people as people," she said.

When an Israeli newspaper ran an article about the couple last month, they expected a fiery reader response, but it did not happen.

"People keep trying to stick political stickers on us and push us into a political place, but that is not the place for us. Our place is the place of people, who just want to be together and raise a family together"

Avissar

"We didn't get any nasty calls and nobody said I betrayed my country," says Avissar. "But ours is such a human story, it would be hard not to have sympathy." 

Avissar converted to Islam in order to marry Zatar. "I believe in God," she says. "But I don't think that any one religion is any more right than the other."

The two say they are keen not to become symbols or representatives of Israel and Palestine.

"People keep trying to stick political stickers on us and push us into a political place, but that is not the place for us," says Avissar.

"Our place is the place of people, who just want to be together and raise a family together."

Enduring hope

Avissar is a ballet dancer and instructor. She hopes to work in this field in Ramallah - but of course that depends on whether she is allowed to stay, and on how she is received by the local community.

"I hope that no one tries to bother us and lets us live together. As soon as I married Jasmin, she is no longer the enemy"

Osama Zatar

Such mixed relationships in the region can provoke suspicions, that one spouse is a collaborator and the other an employee of the Israel security services. 

Zatar, a sculptor who, like many in Ramallah, is currently out of work, says: "I hope that no one tries to bother us and lets us live together. As soon as I married Jasmin, she is no longer the enemy."

Avissar remains hopeful, saying the law is likely to change in the future.

"In any case, it will not change the proof that I have found the most real, most important thing in my life - a love for life, the thing that everyone looks for."