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The Story of One Palestinian Family: Displaced, Dispossessed, Separated

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Mohammad Alsaafin is a Palestinian refugee, from the village of Fallujah which lies in what is now Israel. He has never visited the village; his grandparents were exiled from there in 1949, a year after the founding of Israel, and took refuge in Gaza. Mohammad and his father were both born in the Khan Younis refugee camp--his father while Gaza was still occupied by Egypt, and he in 1988, just a month after the outbreak of the first intifada. Mohammad's family emigrated to the United Kingdom when he was only two, where his father eventually received his PhD. The entire family became British citizens and continued to live in the UK until 2004, when they decided to relocate to Ramallah, in the West Bank, so Mohammad and his three siblings could forge stronger ties to their homeland. As foreign passport holders, they assumed their freedom of movement would be relatively easy.

They assumed wrong.

In late 2005, Mohammad attempted to leave the West Bank to visit his aunt in Amman, Jordan. Israeli border agents refused to let him through, because he held an Israeli-issued Gaza ID card, which meant that, under Israeli military rules, he was living in the West Bank illegally. For four years after that fateful attempt, Mohammad stayed put in Ramallah, never leaving the city out of fear he'd be forced away from his family, until this summer when, accepted for an internship in the United States, he made the decision to leave, regardless of his fate.

He was granted permission to exit, but only on the condition that he return to Gaza, where he hadn't lived since he was two years old. His father was recently dealt a similar blow: After spending years working as a foreign journalist, crossing back and forth from Gaza to the West Bank, and throughout Israel, he was arrested while entering Gaza through the Erez crossing, his press credentials revoked, and he was told his British passport was worthless, superseded by his Gaza ID. He would henceforth be treated as a Gazan, and was sent into Gaza and told he could never cross the Green Line or enter the West Bank again. To complicate matters, Mohammad's mother also possesses a Gaza ID, despite being born and raised in the West Bank, but his siblings all hold West Bank IDs.

Mohammad's story has been making the rounds through the blogosphere and foreign media, thanks to an eloquent open letter he wrote (which can be found here, along with a letter Mohammad's father Abdullah sent to Tony Blair). I asked him about the letter, and his reasons for writing it, to which he responded:

I wrote this letter not as a plea for help, but as a plea for attention to be focused on Israel's racist and discriminatory residency policies. What has happened to my family is what has been happening to Palestinians for 60 years: displacement, dispossession, separation and segregation-the true characteristics of Israel.

Mohammad now resides in one country, his father in another. His mother remains in Ramallah, afraid to leave for fear of being sent to Gaza, a place which she has never lived, but by some cruel twist of fate, is considered her proper home by the Israeli military. His siblings, still in the West Bank, enjoy slightly greater freedom of travel, but are limited from seeing their brother or father.

Mohammad's story, though complicated, is not unique. Stories of dispossession, of families being separated, displaced, IDs being revoked, are altogether too common. This is the reality Palestinians live with every single day.