Love in times of Israeli apartheid

Israeli restrictions on Palestinian entry, movement and settlement constitute deliberate community engineering.

Valentines in Palestine Reuters
A 'Valentine's Day' teddy bear hangs on a fence in the West Bank city of Ramallah on February 13, 2011 [File: Mohamad Torokman/Reuters]

On February 14, Valentine’s Day, the corporate capitalism machinery will distract the general population with yet another consumerist “holiday” in which we are made to feel lonely, inadequate and/or obliged to spend money in order to demonstrate affection for loved one.

Apart from enforcing the idea of heteronormative and monogamous relationships, Valentine’s Day has also come to represent the gross commodification of love and relationships. For some, the day will pass in spending money, for others – in wishing they were spending money, and still others – in wishing they could be with their beloved

Indeed, on Valentine’s Day, there will be many partners and lovers who will suffer, being forcefully separated by racist policies and colonial borders. For Palestinians, this is just another fact of life that Israel enforces upon them.

So many Palestinians are unable to build their lives with their loved ones because they are simply banned from being in the same place.

One of the primary ways in which Israel prevents Palestinians from being together is through its racist and colonial ID system. Colonial and settler colonial entities have long employed different tiers of identification in order to divide and conquer native and indigenous peoples.

Israel imposes several different forms of identification on Palestinians which regulate how much mobility they have, where they can live and essentially what rights they have access to. In addition, a series of legislations and Israel’s total control over all Palestinian borders make their power over various aspects of Palestinian lives absolute.

Although the Israeli regime has been putting restrictions on Palestinian lives, which has inevitably affected intimate relationships for decades, the situation got much worse after the Second Intifada. In 2003, the Israeli Knesset passed the “Citizenship and Entry Law” which effectively denied legal status in Israel to Israeli citizens’ spouses who come from the West Bank and Gaza. Moreover, applications for family reunification of Palestinians with Israeli passports with their partners holding Palestinian papers are routinely denied to such couples.

This has affected thousands of families of Palestinians who have had to make difficult decisions on whether to move abroad or live in constant fear of their spouse being expelled.

This particular law disproportionally affects East Jerusalemites, who already live in a constant state of apprehension of losing their residency. Indeed, their permanent residency status requires that they have to regularly prove they live in the city; if they fail to, they risk having their permanent residency revoked.

For them, the “Citizenship and Entry” law means that if they marry someone from the West Bank, they can only live in a few Jerusalemite neighbourhoods, such as Kufr Aqab. These neighbourhoods, while technically being part of Jerusalem, have been cut off from the city by the apartheid wall and are located on the West Bank side. They are overcrowded and lack basic infrastructure and services, but many couples with mixed IDs have found refuge there.

In Gaza, Palestinians have been locked under a crippling siege since 2006 with major restrictions on entry and exit. Hardly any Palestinians are allowed to leave the strip, let alone to live elsewhere in historic Palestine.

In fact, Palestinians who have other forms of ID, including an Israeli one, and who had gone to live in Gaza with their spouses before the siege are essentially trapped there because if they leave, the Israeli authorities will not let them back in. Their decision to remain with their loved ones means that they have to endure a horrific life in a virtual open-air prison.

Similarly, there are Gaza Palestinians who live in the West Bank with their spouses without the “permission” of the Israeli authorities. They also live in constant fear of being detained and sent back to Gaza by the Israeli army.

Those who are married to foreigners are also affected by restrictive Israeli policies. Because Israel controls the entry to and the exit from the West Bank and Gaza, it can choose who to let in and who to deny entry to. Foreigners married to Palestinians have routinely been denied entry and in more recent years, have been asked to pay “bond deposits” of thousands of dollars to obtain short-term visas. 

Those who have loved ones jailed have even more restrictions. Palestinian prisoners are frequently denied family visits and are never permitted conjugal visits. Administrative detainees, those held for long periods without trial, and their partners live in constant uncertainty never knowing when they might be reunited. Relationships are pushed to the extreme, many conducting them via letters, conversations on smuggled telephones. There is even a thriving sperm smuggling operation, that allows women to give birth even in the face of lengthy incarcerations. 

Israeli policies which deny Palestinians the right to family life through a variety of restrictions and regulations – yet another pernicious feature of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and the annexation of East Jerusalem – are in clear violation of international law.

As a report by the Palestinian human rights NGO Al Haq points out, this deliberate fragmentation of Palestinian society constitutes “community engineering”. It aims to disrupt Palestinian individual and communal life in order to erase Palestinians from historic Palestine.

Yet, just like other people around the world who face physical barriers to love imposed by criminal regimes, Palestinians are standing up to their oppressors. American author and feminist Bell Hooks once wrote, “you need to have courage to love” and Palestinians certainly have plenty of it.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.