One Palestinian’s right to live in Israel

A Palestinian father prevented his son from becoming a terrorist by giving him up to Israel; the son subsequently became a combat soldier. Last week, Israel repaid the father’s brave actions by denying his residency application.

Israel Pal flag (do not publish again) (photo credit: Avi Katz)
Israel Pal flag (do not publish again)
(photo credit: Avi Katz)
A Palestinian whose adult son is an Israeli citizen was denied permanent residency last week. He’s hardly the first Palestinian to have his residency application rejected, and there are good reasons for Israel’s stringent policy on this matter. But Adel Hussein is no ordinary applicant.
Hussein’s story first came to light when he, his ex-wife and their son told it to The New York Times in 2003. It began simply enough: Working in Israel in the 1970s, he met and married a Jewish woman. They later moved to Hussein’s West Bank hometown of Nur Shams, where they raised their only son, Muhammad.
During the wave of post-Oslo terror in the 1990s, Hussein urged his son to steer clear of terrorist organizations. But one day in 1998, 16-year-old Muhammad came home wearing a terrorist group’s insignia.
At that point, Hussein made an extraordinary decision: rather than let his son become a killer, he would send him and his mother away - back to Israel. When his wife refused to leave, he forced her hand by divorcing her. “I saw my son deteriorating,” he told the Times. “I have only one son. I have nothing else.”
So Muhammad, now known as Yossi Peretz, finished high school in Israel, did his army service and even volunteered for a combat unit, where he fought during the height of the second intifada. His father, according to Yossi, supported that choice and urged him to serve his new country faithfully.
But when the story became known in Nur Shams, blowback was inevitable: Hussein’s house was shot at, torched and plastered with graffiti calling him a Jew. Fearing for his life, he fled to Israel. The government, after a court battle, eventually acknowledged that his life was truly in danger and granted him temporary residency. The one-year visa was subsequently renewed annually.
Now, Hussein is seeking permanent residency. But the Interior Ministry says it has no power to grant his request, because he doesn’t meet the stringent requirements for family reunification set down by law.
Strict limits on Palestinian immigration are eminently reasonable in principle. The current restrictions, instituted in 2003, were prompted by the discovery that several Palestinians granted residency under the old, relatively liberal “family reunification” policy had exploited their visas to commit deadly terror attacks. Since Israel was fighting a hot war with the Palestinians at that time, it made sense to close this loophole by imposing sweeping immigration restrictions on “enemy nationals,” just as other democracies do in wartime.
Nor did the justification for stringent restrictions lapse after the fighting died down. No country has an obligation to commit national suicide, which is what Israel would be doing by accepting large numbers of Palestinian immigrants hostile to the very idea of a Jewish state. That’s why all Israeli governments have rejected the notion of a “right of return” for Palestinian refugees under a peace deal. But there’s no sense in rejecting a negotiated “right of return” if you’re going to allow it anyway under the guise of “family reunification.” And in the 10 years of lax policy instituted by Yitzhak Rabin after the 1993 Oslo Accord, that is very much what happened: an estimated 140,000 Palestinians moved to Israel under this pretext (as the Attorney General’s Office told the Knesset in 2003).
Nevertheless, there’s something terribly wrong with a policy so stringent that it can’t make exceptions for those rare individuals who have chosen to cast their lot with the Jewish people. And that, effectively, is what Adel Hussein did.
There’s no telling how many Jewish lives were spared because he kept his son from becoming a terrorist, even at the wrenching cost of giving him up. There’s also no telling how many Jewish lives were saved by the three years his son spent instead on the front lines of Israel’s defense.
But there’s one life that Hussein incontrovertibly restored to the Jewish people: his son’s. All he had to do was nothing, and Muhammad would have been irretrievably lost: He would have gone ahead and joined a terrorist organization, presumably served it as loyally as he did the IDF, killed untold numbers of Jews, and never set foot in Israel again unless caught and sent to jail.
Instead, Hussein gave up everything he had - his wife, his son, his home - to restore Muhammad/Yossi to the Jewish people. He didn’t do it for love of Israel, but for love of his son: As he said, he didn’t want his son to be a killer. Yet that in itself is an extraordinary tribute. Unlike so many of the West’s enlightened moral relativists, Adel Hussein understood that there’s a fundamental difference between terrorist organizations and the IDF: that the former are murderers, while the latter fights in justified defense of its country and people. Now, all he wants in exchange is to be able to live out his declining years near his son without fear of deportation.
There’s a very practical reason why Israel should acquiesce: A country that makes a habit of betraying its allies rather than rewarding them will soon have no allies left. Israel has already betrayed too many allies, from its abandonment of the South Lebanon Army to its scandalous neglect of the Druze community, and this habit urgently needs to be broken.
But there’s also a moral reason: A country that has lost its ability to feel gratitude has lost its soul. If there’s truly no leeway for exceptions in the law (which I doubt), then it needs to be amended - because a law that makes it impossible to help those who help us is an abomination.
It would cost Israel very little to say “thank you” to Adel Hussein in the one currency he wants. There’s no excuse whatsoever for not doing it.
The writer is a journalist and commentator.