It was late July when I came home from work and my wife Huwaida let me know the news that would change our lives forever – that after 10 years of marriage (much of it spent apart) and months of trying, she was pregnant. We were both ecstatic, excited.
At the same time, we were nervous about the health of the foetus and the potential risks of the pregnancy, since we were both past a certain age and into the “at-risk” category. We worried about providing security and stability for a baby, unsure about where to live and raise a child, and a million other things that face all parents.
Not more than a few days later, though, I started thinking about where our child should be born and why. While finding a location that provided excellent medical care was an absolute condition, it was not the only, or perhaps even primary condition.
Huwaida is a Palestinian citizen of Israel, as well as a US citizen. She was born in Detroit, shortly after her father – a Palestinian citizen of Israel – and her mother – a West Bank Palestinian with a Jordanian passport – moved to the United States in order to raise their children in a place where there were no limits to their opportunities.
But although Huwaida’s dad was keen to make sure that the discrimination he faced at home would not be known to his children, he did make sure to register Huwaida’s birth – and those of the rest of her siblings – at the Israeli consulate in order to pass down the Israeli citizenship to them.
As for my Jewish family, we had been in the US since before World War I, and for us Israel did not hold much significance – never had we known anyone from our family who moved to Israel, much less took citizenship there.
Modern-day ‘Romeo and Juliet’
When Huwaida and I married, much was made in the press about our relationship from different backgrounds and there was a rush to portray it as a modern-day “Romeo and Juliet”. But we always maintained that not only were we not so different, but that more importantly when it came to the polarising politics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we saw eye-to-eye when it came to issues of justice, accountability, international law, human rights and dignity.
We never defined ourselves by the myopic view of either/or and found not “common ground” but rather common purpose – to strive for justice, to speak out and to act as our consciences demanded.
It was in the course of engaging in non-violent activism that I was first arrested and deported by the Israeli government in 2002. In the years since, our activism has been maintained – Huwaida mainly inside Palestine and myself working with Palestinian refugees and the Palestinian diaspora.
As someone who was persona non grata for the Israeli government, I was tuned into the Palestinian experience of exile.
While my own experience could not be compared to that of Palestinian refugees, who had been forcibly expelled from their homeland, compelled to live in refugee camps and on the margins of societies, used as political pawns by various political interests and factions and obligated to struggle just to have their basic rights understood as those at the foundation of international human rights standards, I nonetheless felt I understood them on a deeper level.
And my activism, filmmaking and advocacy have been driven by that empathy brewed by shared experience.
Most importantly, I knew how important passports, documents and identity papers were to Palestinians in terms of being able to cross borders, own property, vote, ensure fundamental human security and enable personal and professional opportunities.
Finally in 2011, after about a decade of putting our relationship, our careers and our desire to start a family on hold, we were able to establish a home and start planning on having children. We were concerned about having waited so long, but were hopeful, and sure enough by 2012 summer, Huwaida’s doctor confirmed she was pregnant.
As my thoughts invariably turned towards the future our child would face, one question nagged me – given that I was denied entry to Palestine, and that Huwaida was a high-profile activist who often was arrested and detained for engaging in popular protest, how could we guarantee that our child would have access to his/her homeland, to his/her ancestors and family that was in Palestine.
For that, there was only one answer, and one course of action – paradoxically, the opposite journey that Huwaida’s parents took a generation before. Because of Israeli law governing the passing of citizenship among Palestinian citizens, we didn’t have a choice, but only one option – to have the baby born there, even if it meant that I could not be present.
On Sunday night, March 3, we boarded a plane from New York to Tel Aviv to try to enter the city in the 35th week of pregnancy. When we landed on Monday afternoon, we looked at each other with some trepidation, but also a knowing look that indicated we were at the crucible.
Within moments of my data being entered into the computer by the immigration officer, I was asked for my father’s and grandfather’s names, and then was told to wait. Huwaida was asked if she was with me and she was also made to wait.
A few minutes later, we were taken off to the side waiting area at Ben Gurion arrivals, where the immigration police offices were present, and told to wait. After over two hours, we were summoned to the desk and I was informed that I could not enter the country.
Apparently, I had a 10-year ban issued against me in 2009, when I was forcibly brought to Israel by the Israeli Navy while on a boat, still in international waters, sailing for the besieged Gaza strip to bring miniscule and symbolic amounts of reconstruction materials and school supplies.
I was put on a plane a few days later, but never informed of any ban – at the time I was in the midst of being persona non grata after being arrested and deported in 2002 for filming a popular protest in the village of Huwwara, near Nablus, where villagers took to the streets in defiance of a 21-day curfew imposed by the Israeli military.
Secret travel ban
Now, at the airport we protested that I was not informed of any such ban. A letter sent by Huwaida in 2008 to the Ministry of Interior to clarify my status went unanswered.
“There was no opportunity in this petition to question the validity of the ban in the first place, or to assert that the reasonableness for a citizen to have her husband with her at the birth of their child.”
A letter in 2010 sent by our lawyer to the Ministry received a brush off response suggesting I check with an Israeli embassy. No matter, I was to be sent back. So we got our lawyer to get an injunction to stop the deportation pending a hearing, which was scheduled for the next day, Tuesday.
At the court, the judge only would hear arguments about whether the Ministry of Interior was reasonable to reject my entry to Israel on the basis that the Ministry had a 10-year ban against me; virtually theatre of the absurd.
There was no opportunity in this petition to question the validity of the ban in the first place, or to assert that the reasonableness for a citizen to have her husband with her at the birth of their child.
In fact, the notion of reasonableness when applied to anything Israeli having to do with anything related to Palestinian is itself a farce. And yet, that was that. I would fly out the next night.
Huwaida and I realise that while our situation is not really one of choice, not in terms of ensuring the future accessibility of Palestine to our child, we are nowhere near facing the kind of situations that other Palestinians have faced at times of childbirth as well as the situation of papers.
We are not going to have to fear having Huwaida stuck at a checkpoint and forced to give birth while waiting to switch from one ambulance to another as Israeli soldiers decide whether to let a pregnant woman pass.
Huwaida will not have to worry about supplies of medicine or oxygen or neo-natal equipment like Palestinians in Gaza. She will not have to think about how to register her child like Palestinian refugees who were living in Syria and now have fled into Lebanon.
All of these are real life traumas that have no solutions and are a direct result of the ongoing displacement Palestinian people and illegal occupation. Even to us our story seems inconsequential by comparison. We are well aware that to a certain degree we have “privileged” circumstances and we can get attention for it.
So, while I will not get to witness the birth of my child, we stand by the decisions we have made, to a degree thankful we can count on family and friends to be supportive and helpful to assist with that decision, and that we can even make such a decision.
We also recognise – and insist that others who have chosen to remain blind also recognise – that this act is an act of defiance to stand up to the Israeli system that has determined that one group of people is above another.
This seemingly insignificant matter speaks volumes to the extent to which the foundation of the Israeli state and its policies are corrupt and unjust. If at such a level it is self-evident, then it can only be by willful efforts that the even plainer truth is obscured or distorted.
Our decision has been to make sure that our child will be able to see, if they still exist by then… our hope is that the policies and systems that force these kinds of decisions and these traumas will no longer be around for anyone’s child to see.
Adam Shapiro is a human rights activist and documentary filmmaker. His film series Chronicles of a Refugee about Palestinian refugees worldwide was broadcast on Al Jazeera.