Nablus, West Bank – They met four years ago, fell in love, decided to be together, and even signed a marriage contract. But for Dalia Shurrab and Rashed Faddah, two Palestinians from the Gaza Strip and West Bank respectively, living together in matrimony is still a distant dream.
Israeli authorities forbid Palestinians from travelling between the two territories which it controls, other than in exceptional circumstances that include humanitarian and medical reasons.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
Faced with very little options, Shurrab, 32, who lives in the southern Gaza Strip city of Khan Younis, and Faddah, 35 from Nablus in the West Bank, launched a Facebook campaign: “Deliver the Bride to the Groom.” The campaign calls on the Palestinian Authority (PA) president to help secure a permit so Shurrab can travel via Israel to the West Bank to be with Faddah.
“He sees my inner beauty,” Shurrab said, speaking of her fiance. “She is kind-hearted, affectionate, and ambitious,” Faddah said, describing Shurrab. “I want her to be the mother of my children so they can be like her.”
The couple met at a conference in the Jordanian capital, Amman, and stayed in touch via Skype and text messages. Over time, they both found that they shared a passion for photography and astronomy, and eventually got engaged. Shurrab bought her wedding dress, they exchanged rings, and a dowry was given.
Faddah bought a house for the couple in Nablus and started furnishing it; a brand new fridge, a flat-screen TV, a bed and an armoire, some kitchen appliances. Shurrab was able to take part in simple ways; she picked the paint colour – peach – for the bedroom by flipping through an online catalogue.
The separation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip has affected thousands of Palestinian couples like Faddah and Shurrab, say Israeli human rights groups B’Tselem and HaMoked. The groups regularly document cases of families torn apart because of the divide between the two territories, with Israel rarely issuing permits for Palestinians to relocate.
According to a report by the two groups last year, Gaza residents are almost entirely barred from officially relocating to the West Bank, even if they have lived there for years. Israeli authorities only allow for submission of requests in exceptional cases.
“This is part of a clear policy that Israel announced that they are going to isolate the Gaza Strip from the West Bank,” said Yael Stein, B’Tselem’s head of research.
Two prerequisites must be met by an applicant first; passing a security clearance and establishing first-degree kinship with the person they want to live with in the West Bank.
Once these criteria are met, authorities will review the request if an applicant fits one of three categories; “chronically ill patients, minors under 16 who have lost a Gazan parent, and elderly people in need of nursing care who have no relative of any degree in Gaza to care for them”. Marriage is not one of the categories, the report explained.
“Israeli officials defend their policy, they say its for security reasons, but one can’t accept this argument [which is] very sweeping; that all the people are security threats,” Stein said. “Of course [authorities] can make personal security checks on each person.”
Shurrab said she is appealing to Abbas, and not Israel in its capacity as the authority in charge of Palestinian affairs in the West Bank and Gaza. “I won’t address Israel because I can’t expect my occupier to be merciful to me,” Shurrab said. “They are the ones who put us in this situation to begin with.”
very sweeping; that all the people are security threats. “]
Xavier Abu Eid, a communications adviser for the Palestine Liberation Organisation, said the Palestinian government was following up on Shurrab and Faddah’s case, “and those of thousands of Palestinian families affected by restrictions imposed by the [Israeli] occupation … which is taking action against the Palestinian social fabric”.
The Israeli Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) said in an email: “Since 2007, when Hamas – a terror organisation – came in to power in Gaza, a policy was enacted whereby passage between Gaza and Judea and Samaria [West Bank] is permitted only for humanitarian cases and under the procedure to prevent unauthorised permanent residence.”
Palestinians were afforded relatively free passage between the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Israel after the 1967 war. In the late 1980s, during the first Intifada, Israel began restricting entry by Palestinians into the country, and in 1991 began asking Palestinians to obtain individual permits.
Over the years, restrictions grew more stringent.
When the second Intifada erupted in 2000, Israeli authorities stopped updating the Palestinian population registry, which tracked change of address from Gaza to the West Bank.
The HaMoked-B’Tselem report said there are approximately 21,500 adults and minors living in the West Bank but whose address is listed as Gaza in the Israeli copy of the Palestinian population registry.
Gaza-based Palestinians who succeed in relocating to the West Bank are often left unable to see their families back home for years. Shurrab is aware of this and the many “costs” of marrying someone from outside the Strip.
“I know I am risking being separated from my family and the world that I know,” she said. “But I have hope that I will be able to meet them again, and in Nablus, I have Rashed’s family and relatives who will hopefully make up somewhat for my time away from my family.”
Faddah, who works at the electric company in Nablus, and Shurrab, a social media expert, were engaged in January 2012. Accompanied by his father, Faddah went to Gaza to sign the marriage contract, and it’s there that he was able to meet her family for the first time.
Shurrab met her finance’s mother once in Jericho in 2014, when she was allowed into the West Bank to participate in a conference. She said she thought about overstaying her permit and illegally heading to Nablus; she quickly dismissed the idea because she didn’t want to affect other Palestinians’ chances of getting permits.
In the meantime, Faddah and Shurrab are forced to a endure a long-distance relationship, mostly over the internet, and depending on the whims of Gaza’s intermittent electric outages. They each take turns calling the Palestinian liaison office, which coordinates with an Israeli counterpart on civil affairs, to check for updates on Shurrab’s permit request.
“Sometimes we feel like we have hit a dead end,” Faddah admitted. “But we keep supporting each other. We are not threatening anyone. We just want to live a normal life. By besieging Gaza, the Israelis have made our lives, and those of others, very complicated.”
Follow Dalia Hatuqa on Twitter: @daliahatuqa