The sad story of my friend Sam

Thousands of people have been playing the same game for years - leaving the country every three months.

By
September 25, 2006 20:14
palestinians cross through rafah 298

rafah palestinians 298.8. (photo credit: AP [file])

 
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I have been spending hours during the past couple of weeks trying to help a friend. Well, he's not really a friend, we hardly know each other. I have exchanged e-mails with him several times over the past years, and appeared with him once at a conference at Tel Aviv University. I was impressed by his mild manner and his "go-getter" attitude to life. In a lot of ways he reminds me of myself. He immigrated to this country out of a deep sense of idealism. He felt that he was coming home. He wanted to serve his people, build a life for himself and his family. Like me, he immigrated from the States. He has been living here for years and has scored some real achievements, including making a name for himself in the business world. His name is Sam Bahour, and he is Palestinian. He came home to Palestine at the outset of the peace process in order to build the new state and make a contribution to peace. He believed in the peace process and he wanted to build his life with his people. Sam has built a hi-tech company in Ramallah. He's built a small shopping center there too. He has been a central and active part of Ramallah's social and intellectual life. Sam is all over, always willing to help out, and always willing to meet Israelis because he believes in peace. He has many Israeli friends all over Israel. He even holds an MBA from Tel Aviv University. The one place where Sam doesn't have Israeli friends is in the Civil Administration - and that's where he needs them more than ever. WHEN MOSHE Arens was minister of defense in the early 1990s he formed a committee, headed by Prof. Ezra Sadan, to reevaluate Israel's economic policies in the West Bank and Gaza. The Sadan committee recommended, and minister Arens implemented, a major policy change that actually encouraged investors of Palestinian origin to "return" to the West Bank and Gaza in order to invest and to create jobs. When the peace process got under way after 1993 that policy was further developed and Palestinian expatriates were called on by both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority to come back to Palestine and build their future while contributing to peace. That's what Sam did. Only Sam didn't know that Israel would continue to control the population registry, and that he would have to leave the country every three months in order to be able to stay in the country. But Sam is a law-abiding citizen, and so every three months he left the country in order to get a new three-month tourist visa. Now everyone knew Sam wasn't a tourist, but everyone has been playing the game of make-believe that he was so he could stay in Ramallah with his wife and children and could continue to manage the successful businesses he has worked so hard to build. THOUSANDS of people have been playing the same game for years. Sam did apply for family reunification in 1994, before the PA took over. It is also worth pointing out that thousands of Jews live for years in Israel for years on tourist visas without being threatened at all. At the end of this month, in a few days, Sam will have to leave the country again - but this time he will not be coming back. Someone decided that the charade has to end. A certain Mr. Gur Lavie, who is in charge of Palestinian population registration for the West Bank, said to me last week: "Let's face it. We all know he's not a tourist." I said, "That's right, we all know that." So, said my interlocutor, "let him apply for family reunification." Brilliant idea! Some 120,000 family reunification files have been opened since 2000, but since the beginning of the intifada in September 2000, the State of Israel has stopped reviewing family reunification files. The registration officer's response: "That's his problem" - and he is right, it is his problem; but it should be ours too. NOW IT IS very important to get something straight. Sam Bahour does not want to live in the State of Israel. He lives in Ramallah, and he wishes to continue to live in Ramallah. He too wants to stop playing the charade. He is not alone. He is one of thousands of Palestinians who have no Palestinian ID issued by the Palestinian Authority, thus, he has no ID approved by the State of Israel. Sam Bahour only has his US passport and that document is no longer useful for getting him permission to live in Ramallah. The official I spoke to is implementing a policy which is nothing more than a form of ethnic cleansing, but he did not make the decision himself. He is simply a mid-level clerk in a pseudo-government system of control called "the occupation." One of his bosses made the decision. Since his direct boss is the head of the Civil Administration, it might appear that some brigadier-general made the decision, but Brig.-Gen. Kamil Abu Rukon, the current head of the Civil Administration, did not make the decision. It came from higher up. Abu Rukon answers to Gen. Yosef Mishlev, the coordinator of government activities in the territories, but Gen. Mishlev also didn't make this decision. It was made by the minister of defense - not Amir Peretz but his predecessor, Shaul Mofaz. It was probably one of the last decisions he made before leaving the ministry. It is possible that Peretz is not even aware of the decision and its impact on tens of thousands of people in the West Bank. IT IS TIME to end the charade. When I immigrated to Israel they made me a temporary resident. When I was ready I was given citizenship and permanent residency. Sam Bahour does not yet have a state to become a citizen of, but he certainly should be granted some form of residency that allows him to be the exemplary citizen that he is. We Israelis should be interested in keeping Sam Bahour and the thousands of others like Sam as our neighbors in the West Bank. The chances for building real peace increase when people like Sam Bahour can be our neighbor. Shame on any government of Israel that would force people like Sam to leave. During the final days leading up to Yom Kippur we should all say sorry to Sam Bahour and correct this injustice to Sam and to thousands of others once and for all. It is the most Jewish thing to do, particularly in the Holy Days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. The writer is the Israeli Co-CEO of IPCRI, the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information. www.ipcri.org

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