Today is Valentine’s Day! Whether you choose to celebrate it by caving to mass marketing of consumer products, sharing hilarious anti V-day cards on Facebook, or just enjoying a day that celebrates chocolate, nearly all of us mark the occasion in one way or another. But how can you celebrate Valentine’s Day, or any day for that matter, when you live under a system that is constantly separating you from them? That’s the subject of the Love Under Apartheid project helmed by Palestinian-American graduate student Tania Keilani which has quickly gained a following since its debut on February 13th 3:30pm EST (that’s less than twelve hours before the publishing of this article!).
From Concept to Creation
Love Under Apartheid showcases the real-life stories of Palestinians who must endure the pain of separation due to the injustice of the Israeli occupation and laws that discriminate against non-Jews in Israel. To promote the site’s debut, Ms. Keilani and her colleagues produced a satirical video called “Checkpoint Date” and uploaded it to the Funny Or Die community. The minute and a half skit depicts a young man’s struggles to get to his date on time while dealing with soldiers who hound him all the way from the shower to squeezing themselves onto his bike. Though he eventually reaches his destination, and his lovely lady, the struggle isn’t over as two soldiers at their restaurant table are already gobbling up some of the menu. Soon after its debut, #LoveUnderApartheid began trending on Twitter with notable Palestinian tweeps Remi Kanazi and Maysoon Zayid joining in.
— Maysoon Zayid (@maysoonzayid) February 13, 2012
Ms. Keilani’s inspiration for the project came while talking to a friend who had become engaged some years earlier about the uncertainty of her future with her fiancée. Where would they live? Where would they work? Would they be able to visit their own families once they got married?
“The idea of that question about the future really struck me,” she says.
Though the site is mostly about the future of Palestinian couples, but also includes stories about the relationships between parents and children.
“All these stories are connected because they first begin with a couple who fell in love,” Ms. Keilani adds. “And everyone loves a good love story.”
Once the concept was in place, Ms. Keilani worked with a number of groups and organizations in a grassroots effort to collect the stories through Facebook, email, and word of mouth. Now that the site is live, viewers will also be able to submit their own videos to see published on the site.
“Impossible Choices” for Gaza and West Bank residents
In order to travel between the two areas, Palestinians must pass through checkpoints and present their identification cards to the Israeli military. Gisha, an Israeli nonprofit dedicated to protecting Palestinian freedom of movement, profiled cases where Palestinians were denied permission to travel to and from Gaza and the West Bank in a 2010 report. From the viewpoint of the IDF family relations are not a sufficient reason to permit travel, a policy which has seen sharper restrictions since Islamist party Hamas became the leaders of the Gaza government in 2007.
Under normal circumstances, a married couple is free to make a home anywhere in their country. But a Palestinian man or woman from Gaza whose spouse is from the West Bank is not entitled to live there. On the other hand, Israel tends to allow West Bank residents to move to the Gaza Strip with their families, creating a one-way option for these couples. This policy puts pressure on Palestinians wishing to maintain their family unit to relocate to Gaza from the West Bank. In doing so, they take a risk that it will be very hard or impossible for them to returnto the West Bank, which is often the location of their homes, their jobs and their family and social support network. Under normal circumstances, a family may choose to move to a different place based on considerations of employment opportunities, proximity to family, and sentimental attachment. A family living in Gaza does not have the option of moving to the West Bank as a family. West Bank-born residents of Gaza face an impossible choice: They can live with their spouse in Gaza, separated from their parents and siblings in the West Bank for years on end, or they can return to their place of birth and live near their aged parents and the rest of their family, but be separated from their spouse who, due to the address on their identity card, may not leave the Gaza Strip.
Gisha also released a brilliant multimedia tool in the form of an interactive game “Safe Passage” which integrates many of their collected facts and statistics on the economic, social, and educational impact of the restrictions on movement.
Targeting the Palestinian Minority in Israel
Roses are red, Violets are blue, but a Palestinian can’t move in w/ a spouse across the green line cuz their not a Jew. #loveunderapartheid
— Yousef Munayyer (@YousefMunayyer) February 13, 2012
Due to a temporary order issued by the Knesset in 2003, which later became law, Palestinian citizens of Israel who marry Palestinian residents living under occupation have been almost completely unable to achieve citizenship status for their spouse. With that refusal of citizenship comes the denial of their right to live together in Israel. The Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel states the following on family unification in their 2011 Inequality Report:
The law denies the right to acquire Israeli residency or citizenship status to Palestinians from the OPT, even if they are married to citizens of Israel (Jewish or Arab). The ban is based solely on their nationality, not on individual security-related reasons. Since the overwhelming majority of Israeli citizens who marry residents of the OPT are Palestinian citizens, and since the ban does not apply to Israeli settlers living in the West Bank, the law discriminates against Palestinian citizens and violates their rights to equality, family life, dignity and liberty. It is also totally disproportionate to the alleged security reasons cited by Israel to justify it and is, rather, motivated by the state’s desire to maintain a Jewish demographic majority.
Thousands of families are forced to live apart, or in a state of constant insecurity under the threat of separation, as a result of the law. Temporary visitor permits have been granted to Palestinian spouses in very restricted circumstances since July 2005, and in May 2006 the Israeli Supreme Court upheld the law in a split 6-5 decision. In 2007 the ban was extended to include spouses from “enemy states” Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Iran, and “anyone living in an area in which operations that constitute a threat to the State of Israel are being carried out,” according to the security services.
Petitions against the law were officially rejected by the Israeli Supreme Court in a 6-5 vote last month.
Love Conquers All?
For those of us who are not Palestinian, we cannot fool ourselves into thinking that if Israel merely reversed these policies that everything would be alright. There can be no talk of respecting Palestinian rights without a clear commitment to ending the system that has denied it to them in the first place: the Occupation. With an occupation that has lasted more than sixty years, that process could take a very long time indeed. Appealing for Palestinians’ right to exist together is but one component of those efforts, and one that should unite people of all creeds and colors in seeing it’s moral and legal rightness.