Adel Samara is one of thousands of Palestinian-Americans living in the West Bank who have been the targets of what appears to be a new Israeli policy denying them re-entry status into Palestine. Samara’s wife, an American, and 31-year resident of the West Bank, was recently denied entry, separating her from her husband, two children, grand-daughter, and her business – a beauty salon that she owns in Ramallah. IMEMC interviewed Mr. Samara about his experience.
Q: I understand that you have been separated from your wife due to the Israeli official denying her entry at the border?
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about that?
A: My wife was born here in Ramallah. She left the country one month before the 1967 war. She came back in 1975. We knew each other and we got married at that time. From 1975 until now, she only came here using an Israeli visa, a visa for 3 months. She never made any mistake. She would leave the country whenever her visa expired. On May 23 of this year, she left to Jordan to renew her visa and when she tried to return, three days later on May 26, at first they stamped ‘entry’ and then a few seconds later, they stamped ‘denied.’ She tried again on the 28th of May of this year, from the other bridge and they also did the same.
They never gave her any reason for why they denied her entry. That’s after 31 years, when my wife — who was born here, who has children, who also married here, my daughter has a baby of 3 years here – despite all of these things, they called for a deportation.
Now my wife has good friends here, she’s working, she’s paying taxes, she has electricity bills, she has everything that is supposed to make her a citizen, but they just told her, “Don’t come back.” That’s it.
Q: Israel doesn’t grant residency status, so describe what your wife had to go through in the time that she was living in the West Bank?
A: Ramallah is not Israel, it is occupied by Israel. Israel, all the time changes the world, changes history, changes everything, for their sake. This is an occupied area, this is not Israel. That’s one thing.
The second thing, even if this is the case, Israel should tell any visitor, ‘look, you are coming to a risky area, this is our area. We might give you a visa once or twice.’ In this case I would not have married my wife and she would not have married me. They created a trap. It is a message to the people that even if we are going to impose our rules. But they should tell the people in advance who are coming here that they will not allow us to stay here, and that’s it. In this case it will be my mistake, that I made such a decision. And it is not only my case, I’m talking about thousands of people.
Q: Did the Israeli government revoke her residency status after 1967?
A: According to the all the laws in history, any person born in an area has the right to come back. My wife was born here, she lived here until she was 16 years old. She left to America with her family and when she came back they told her ‘You are not a citizen, you have an American citizenship and that’s it.’ Even though I’m living here and I have a local ID they did not give my wife a family reunification. We applied ten times. It’s my right as a citizen to get a local ID for my wife. But they even refused to give me that.
Q: Why do you think the Israeli government has suddenly changed their policy like this?
A: There is no answer to what the Israelis do. You need to ask an Israeli legislator – they have given no response to the Palestinian Authority, nor to the Foreign Consulates based in Israel that have asked them about it. But there are some rumors. One of the rumors is that because Hamas was elected by the people they want to punish all of the people. Even if you are a communist, you have to be punished because Hamas was put in place.
Q: Do you think that this type of policy is making Israel into an apartheid state, like South Africa was?
A: Israel is an apartheid state even without this case. Israel is declaring, and is even proud to be an apartheid state.
Q: Is there a legal challenge being brought against Israel by you and other families that have been faced with this problem?
We are trying. We are trying the legal approach individually and we are trying it as a group of people. But we are in the mere beginning of that. Some of our cases are strong cases even according to the Israeli regulations and policies. We are trying our best.
Q: At the same time that Israel as a government is keeping people of Palestinian origin out, it’s inviting people of Jewish origin in. Do you think that the policy is meant to expand the state of Israel and to get rid of people of Palestinian origin in order to further expand Israel?
Yes. Not only people of Palestinian origin but also of any international peace people. Suppose you are Swedish and you living here, or French or American, it is against anybody who is not Jewish. It is not only against the Palestinians. But in general, I think this is their policy and many times they do not hide it. They want this area to be exclusively for the Jewish people and that’s it. They’ve declared that many times. And it seems they are following the ideas of Professor Armain Sutter who specializes in demography and linguistics, who said – once he said that, ‘any morning if I open my eyes and I see that even one Palestinian left the area, I feel that this is a victory.’
Q: So the apartheid state and the expansion of Israel is part of a larger plan to get rid of Palestinians and to make their area Jewish-only area?
They are always saying that they want a pure Jewish state and they are not saying that they want it on the occupied area of 1948, but that a pure Jewish state is on ‘Eretz Israel’, which includes all of the West Bank, all of Palestine and sometimes Jordan.
Q: How has the response been from the American consulate? Have they helped you?
A: Not at all. The American consulate is a shame. I have an American passport and I consider myself an American, as well as a Palestinian. I love America, I love the area and I love the people. But the regime is totally against us. I sent the American consulate several emails and faxes and they didn’t even respond.
I also sent them an email from a Palestinian who holds a German passport and his name is Sobhi. He said in his email that the Israelis gave him a one-month visa. He came here to write a dissertation for his PhD. They gave him one month and said that if you want more time, you can work for us as an agent. After that the German consulate, or the ambassador, talked to him and convinced the Israelis to give him eight months. I sent this email to the Americans and said ‘Look, the German people are supporting their citizens, but you never did anything for us.’
They sent me an email with a few lines, just saying thank you, we read what you wrote to us, and that’s it. They did this to all the Palestinian-American citizens who came here. The American position is that this is a political problem, and we are not going to accept [your case]. They said also that Israel is a suffering state. I sent them another email and I told them that Israel here is an occupation, and I told them ‘You are justifying what the Israelis are doing’. And I told them that, “Despite all these things, you are crying, asking ‘Why do the Arabs not love the American regime?’” How can they love the American regime?
Q: Did you file a case with the Israeli court of justice?
A: Not yet. I am following the advice of my lawyer.
Q: Do you think that this Israeli policy is a violation of international law?
A: Yes. For sure. I think that anybody who lives in any country for seven years, ten years, something like that…. Even if he is not originally from the area, he might have an ID. But my case is stronger than this. I think that Israel is not following any rules or regulations that should apply all over the world.
Q: From the research that I have been doing, it seems that Israel not only discriminates against Palestinian-Americans but gives special favorable status to Jewish Americans, who are allowed to serve in the Israeli armed forces and who are allowed to donate money to the Israeli armed forces. Do you think that there is a double standard in the treatment of Jewish-Americans as oppose to Palestinian-Americans?
A: Yes. There is discrimination against anybody who is not Jewish. This is the Israeli policy. For example, Argentinean Jews or French Jews, they are privileged in comparison to us. When they come here they get access to a passport, facilities, a fair treatment in laws – everything. I think that every Israeli should not try to defend his state because he knows what his government is doing.
Q: Do you think Israel is also trying to keep foreigners out in order to make the Palestinian cause of suffering under occupation less visible to the world?
A: Yes. This is one of their goals. That is why they are trying also to pressure anyone who works for the media. To let it be so only Palestinians are here, no one will have a chance to get the picture out. If they keep the media out, no one will have the chance to tell the facts of what is happening here to the rest of the world.
Q: Have you had any luck in bringing your wife back, to be reunited with her?
A: I have no hope for that. I consider what happened to me 50% of killing, or 50% of death. I never expected that my wife, now at 56 years old, would be deported and now has to try and find a way to live in America. The cost of living there is high and terrible, in addition to the psychological damage. And for the sake of what? Just because she is not Jewish.
Q: Do you have children? Are they in the West Bank or are they in the US?
A: Yes. My daughter is 30 years old and her son is three years old. My son is 26 years old. They are born here, they have IDs. They are living here, and they are, in fact, depressed. If you read the article written by Amira Hass in Haaretz they explained to her how they feel.
Q: Thank you very much for talking with me Adel.
A: Thank you very much.
*the article referenced in Ha’aretz, by Amira Hass, can be found here.