Violence in Gaza has claimed the lives of dozens of Palestinians this week. There has been much rhetoric about politics and blame that limits the extension of compassion to many who suffer. I had a conversation with a friend who is married to a Palestinian. She asks,
Why is it so difficult to have compassion for Palestinians?
We need to convince people of their humanity – it’s crazy!
My friend is from Latin America, and met her husband while they were both studying as international students at a Christian college in the UK, preparing for Christian ministry. When they fell in love and pondered marriage, they knew life in Palestine would not be easy, but they felt led to go. Just over a year ago, she told the first part of her story:
Although my husband and I both had job opportunities in London, we felt it wasn’t God’s calling. My husband used to say, ‘If you marry me, you marry Palestine.’ So I married Palestine with him.
My dad calls me the Latin Ruth because I followed Ruth’s footsteps when she came to Bethlehem. She swore to Naomi, ‘Your God is my God, and your people are my people.’
I knew it was going to be difficult because of the conflict in Palestine, but I had no idea that the law was so unjust. The Palestinian Government has very little authority. While they recognize my marriage with my husband, they cannot do anything at the borders. Israel controls whether I get in or out. They have a law that requires you to leave the country every two years in order to reapply for your visa. A friend was told by the officer at the border on her return that her visa did not give her permission to live with her husband, but rather only to visit him.
It’s not easy to marry a Palestinian and to live here under the occupation. I often think of a book called ‘Love in the Time of Cholera ‘by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. My love story with my husband might be called, ‘Love in the Shadow of the Wall.’
When a foreigner marries a Palestinian, she has nothing. There is no website where I can go and see what I need to apply for residency or citizenship. There is no category in the world for wives of Palestinians.
We are okay with uncertainty because we live by faith and not by sight. But in my case, it was especially hard for me to come, because I knew if I came, I may not be able to leave. I love traveling, and I used to travel a lot.
She even considered not coming to Palestine with her husband.
But then my dad said, ‘Well, you need to be like Jesus in Bethlehem. He left all the privileges He had in heaven, and He embodied Himself as a true human being.’ He told me that I should follow Jesus in the same way. If that means losing my travel privileges so that I can do what our Savior did, that is the best way I can embody Jesus.
She went and lived in the West Bank, and they committed to raising their family in Palestine.
We don’t want to just have an easy life for our kids; I think that you form better human beings in struggles. The struggle here only makes us more determined to stay.
For us, staying is resistance. We don’t believe in violence; we believe in non-violent resistance. And I think that just by the fact that we are staying–no matter how difficult Israel makes it for us–we are victorious! We are having our children here, and we are going to have a happy life here.
We believe that God will make a way. There is something so beautiful in keeping the population of Christians in Bethlehem not only alive, but thriving! To be a part of that is so important for us.
But today, this isn’t how things have worked out. The policy that has helped shift the percentage of Christians in Palestine from 20% to 2% (and from 80% to 12% in and around Bethlehem) has had its impact on my friend too. A few months ago, she gave birth to their first child, and they are forced to live many, many miles apart.
Many people assume that the Palestinian/Israeli conflict is between two states that have equal rights and power. But the reality is that the West Bank is under military occupation. It is Israel (not Palestine) that has full control over who is allowed to come and go from the West Bank. I am married to a Palestinian but I am not allowed to live with my husband in his homeland.
Today is my husband’s birthday and we should be celebrating…yet we are mourning 52 precious Palestinian lives. Today we should be together watching our daughter grow but we are forced to live separately because Israel controls the borders and has a history of separating Palestinian families.
When she had to leave the country, she was denied re-entry by Israel, because she is married to a Palestinian.
When I go to an Israeli embassy to ask for a visa there is no such category as wife of a Palestinian. So I had to apply for a clergy visa. Which they denied because I am married to a Palestinian. So I can’t get in. The first time I got in as a tourist because I wasn’t married then. But now they won’t grant me a tourist visa because I am married to a Palestinian. The legal loop is discrete but effective in getting people to leave Palestine.
Why can’t your husband leave and live with you somewhere else?
He can leave. But we built a home in Palestine. He also has a ministry there. The remaining Christians are a crucial presence. So it is really hard for us to leave. We have a loan for the house we built; we also don’t have another means of support if he leaves his job.
What will happen now?
We appealed our case to the court as a human rights case. We are hoping we will win, and I will be able to go back, but that will take 8-10 months. So we are praying for a solution because it is so hard to live apart for that long.
Meanwhile their daughter is growing up without her father, and a courageous Christian woman is living and parenting without her husband.
We should be able to live together as a family in my husband’s homeland. It seems so simple.
Nothing in Palestine, it seems, is simple.