A Palestinian and an Israeli married couple has survived war, poverty and family ostracism, Donald Macintyre reported in The Independent, on Tuesday. Imad Hamdan, a Palestinian from a refugee family in Gaza, and Dalia, an Israeli Jew, married 22 years ago and have worked hard to keep the family together. Their marriage has faced up to war, unemployment, poverty, family ostracism and cultural differences.
Imad and Dalia met in the late Eighties. At that time, Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin had not signed the Oslo Accords yet, and it was easy for Israelis to enter the Gaza strip as it was for Palestinians from Gaza to travel into Israel for work.
Imad was working construction contractor in Tel Aviv when one evening, he was introduced to Dalia by Imad’s business partner and his wife in restaurant. Despite having been raised in the ethnically mixed city of Jaffa, the young Jewish woman came from a rightwing family. Nonetheless, Imad and Dalia spent most of the night talking on the beach.
The couple married after Dalia finished her army service, to the consternation of her family. For the first five years, they lived with Dalia’s mother as Imad was working regularly in Israel. ‘My mother used to tell him: ‘I love you a lot but your problem is you’re an Arab’,’ Dalia said. Imad confirmed: ‘Every Jewish mother wants her daughter to marry a Jew.’
When she became pregnant Dalia even had an abortion, being afraid of upsetting her mother. However, it appears that her brothers have been over the years the major opposition to the marriage up until now. Dalia’s relations with her own family became increasingly strained.
Ten years ago, she had three children, all born in Israel, and went to Gaza to be cared for by Imad’s mother. Dalia commented: ‘I loved her a lot…She was really very good to me, like a mother to me.’ Although Imad joined his wife, he continued to stay in Tel Aviv for his work. Shortly after, the second Intifada broke out nevertheless the family was relatively well off in their house, in the Sheikh Radwan district of Gaza City. The couple had another child, their youngest son Rami born in Gaza, the only one holding a Palestinian rather than an Israeli ID.
With the three-year blockade on the Gaza strip, the tens of thousand people, who used to travel from Gaza every day, are denied the right to work in Israel, and little is left to make a living inside the coastal enclave. ‘Sometimes I make only 10 shekels (£1.75) a day,’ Imad said explaining that his only source of income is selling roasted nuts in the street.
Despite these privations, Dalia has not felt pushed to leave her husband and return to Israel. Although Imad insisted that the couple has faced a ‘lot less’ opposition in Gaza than from Dalia’s family, he admitted: ‘When you are in the street some people will say – oh she’s Jewish.’ Dalia converted to Islam in the Nineties – though, referring to her ID and official status back home, Imad stressed: ‘In Israel she’s still a Jew.’ Dalia notes: ‘I don’t like all Arabs. I like the ones that are good to me. But life is good, I’m happy here.’
Imad is currently hoping to emigrate, for purely economic reasons, and resettle in Canada. He described life in Gaza as ‘a million times’ better – at least, financially – before 1994, when the Palestinian Authority was created and Israeli occupying forces withdrew. Viewing himself as politically ‘independent’, Imad criticized the Oslo Accords for starting to erode the freedom that Palestinians used to have in going and out of the Gaza strip for work.
In a statement issued in 2004, in reference to Jewish-Arab marriages, the International Crisis Group said that inter-marriage was ‘highly unusual’ in Israel and ‘frowned upon by vast majorities’ in both communities.
In the same year, a report by the UN High Commission on Refugees showed that many couples eventually separate, divorce or leave the country, especially when they have children. The study pointed out that only marriages between co-religionists are recognized in Israel, and in cases of different religions, one spouse must convert to that of the other.