Why Won't Israel Let Me Mourn?
Raed Jarrar | NYT SYNDICATE MY father, Azzam Jarrar, died last
month. He was a proud Palestinian, a refugee, a civil engineer, a farmer
and an entrepreneur. He was also my friend and mentor. He taught me the
multiplication tables on our way to school in Saudi Arabia. He taught me
how to question authority when we lived in Iraq. He helped me finish my
master's degree when I lived in Jordan. Above all, though, he was
the gateway to my Palestinian roots and identity. My dad fled his home
with his family in 1967, when Israeli soldiers invaded and occupied the
West Bank. He went first to Jordan and then to Iraq, where I was born. I
was the first Jarrar to be born east of the Jordan River since our
family was established on Palestinian land centuries ago. I didn't
have the chance to visit my relatives on the West Bank until 2015, when
I travelled there for a short work trip while working for a Quaker
nongovernmental organisation. Being in the diaspora meant that I
wasn't given the opportunity to connect with the land and people.
My only connection to my family history was through old stories and a
few blurry pictures that my father took with him when he left as a
teenager. That's why, after my father died in Jordan in October, it
was so important for me to visit my extended family in the city of
Jenin, to mourn his death with them. Unfortunately, I was prevented from
doing so by the Israeli government. I had visited Israel, the occupied
West Bank and Gaza Strip two more times since that first trip in 2015.
Like most Palestinian-Americans, I was questioned at the border about my
family and personal life for hours before being admitted. My latest
visit was different. This time, Israeli officials were mostly interested
in my work, even though I made it clear that my partner, Alli McCracken,
and I were travelling in our personal capacity to mourn my father and
visit my family. I'm the Middle East and North Africa advocacy
director for the human rights organisation Amnesty International USA. In
that capacity, I have played a leading role in a new campaign that
seemed to get the Israeli border guards' attention, a campaign
calling on governments to ban goods from Israeli settlements. The
officials who questioned me asked why Amnesty has a problem with Israel.
I kept trying to steer the conversation back to my dad's memorial
service, but they insisted on discussing the organisation's work.
Alli, who also works for Amnesty International, was questioned for a
long time, too. They took her phone and went through her text messages.
After hours of back and forth, I was informed that I was being denied
entry for reasons of"public order" and believe it or not
"the prevention of illegal immigration." I called the American
Consulate General in Jerusalem and was told that there was nothing the
officials there could do to help. Based on the questions I was asked, I
had no doubt that this denial of entry was retaliation for my work.
Amnesty International believes Israel's settlement enterprise
amounts to a war crime. Under international law, governments have an
obligation not to recognise or assist"illegal situations."
That's why Amnesty is calling on governments across the world,
including the United States, to uphold that law and not allow Israeli
businesses to profit from an illegal occupation. Israel seems to have
denied me entry under legislation passed in March that bans entry to
Israel for non-citizens who knowingly issue"a public call for
boycotting Israel." This law pertains not only to the boycott of
goods produced in Israel proper but also to goods produced in
settlements. Although Amnesty International calls for a government ban
on importing those goods not a consumer boycott the Israeli government
seems to treat it the same way. Could my teenage dad fleeing his
hometown half a century ago have imagined this happening to his son? I
wanted to visit his old school and my grandparents' old house. I
wanted to touch the olive trees he climbed as little boy, and eat
hareeseh, my favourite Palestinian dessert made of semolina and coconut,
from the shop in central Jenin. Does it even exist anymore? I
wasn't just upset about missing my dad's memorial service.
Before I left the United States, I told my 4-year-old son that I was
going on a trip because his grandpa had died. He cried a lot. Then he
asked me if we could plant his grandfather back in earth like a plant
and wait until he grows back. I told him we couldn't. He said he
would just use his imagination. I tried to use my imagination while I
was being sent back from the border crossing I tried to imagine my
family's land that I couldn't plant my father back into. When
I returned home, my son asked me about the trip, and I had to tell him
that I wasn't able to go. He looked confused. I couldn't
explain the details my work, Israel's settlements and the
occupation, its unjust laws that stifle civil society. I know I'll
have to tell him about all that someday. It won't be an easy story
to tell, not only because of the Israeli government's actions but
also because of the United States government's lack of action.
Although I've tried to follow up, my own government has not stepped
in to protect my right to equal treatment, and yet continues to help
sustain illegal settlements by allowing the flood of Israeli goods into
American markets. Israel must respect my right, and the rights of
others, to engage in peaceful human rights work without fear of
reprisal. Whether or not the Israeli government agrees with my work and,
of course, I know it doesn't I still should have been able to take
part in those most human of activities: mourning my father and
celebrating his life.
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