David Miller
The Media Line
October 7, 2010 - 12:00am

When 31-year-old Farid Sha’aban was driving with his friend near the Israeli city of Beer Sheva in late October 2008, he could not imagine how drastically his life was about to change.

“The police stopped us. They came right at me, handcuffed me, and drove me directly to the Gaza Strip,” Sha’aban told The Media Line.

Sha’aban, whose father was born in Gaza and who lived there for only one year at age 11, was deported to Gaza because his address was registered in the town of Jabalia in the Gaza Strip.

“I have nothing here [in Gaza],” Sha’aban said. “Until now, I still don’t know the streets. When I first got here I sat in a closed room for eight months, unwilling to leave the house.”

Sha’aban, who used to receive regular medical treatment for back problems in Israel’s Tel-Hashomer hospital, has spent the past four months in a protest tent at the Erez border crossing with Israel. His wife and five children are all Israeli citizens who live in the city of Lod, near Tel-Aviv. He has never met his youngest son, now almost two years old.

“I was never accused of anything,” Sha’aban said. “My record is clean. If they found something out about me, why didn’t they put me in jail? In fact, jail would be better than this life.”

Sha’aban is one of 35,000 Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Israel who according to Gisha, an Israeli NGO dealing with Palestinians’ freedom of movement, cannot leave the vicinity of their homes for fear of deportation to the Gaza Strip, where they are registered as residents.

According to Sari Bashi, executive director of Gisha, in the year 2000 Israel stopped registering address changes from Gaza to the West Bank.

“Under the Oslo agreements Israel was supposed to allow address changes,” Bashi told The Media Line. “But since 2000, Israel has attempted to prevent Gazans from reaching the West Bank and has moved people from the West Bank back into Gaza.”

In 2003, Bashi says, Israel began to prohibit Palestinians whose registered address is in Gaza from being in the West Bank – even if they had been living there for years. Security forces began arresting Palestinians with Gaza addresses and deporting them to Gaza against their will.

Israel amended an old army order in April 2010, defining anyone without a permit to be in the West Bank as an “infiltrator”. As a result, thousands of Palestinians now live in hiding, fearing deportation.

“I am afraid to leave Jericho and cross a checkpoint. I could be picked up and deported to Gaza at any moment,” Rwaida ‘Abd Al-‘Aziz, 51, a native of Gaza who has been living in Jordan and the West Bank for the past 32 years, told The Media Line.

Four of Al-‘Aziz’s children live in Jordan, and she cannot visit them, nor can they visit her in Jericho, since they are all registered as Gaza residents.

“My children never saw Gaza,” she said. “I feel so terrible, I can’t even eat. My children need their mother. There’s no one to take care of them.”

Israeli government officials claim that less than 100 Palestinians have been deported from the West Bank to Gaza during 2008 and 2009, but Sari Bashi says this figure represents only a tiny fraction of the deportees.

“Most people are deported to Gaza from Israel, or after being arrested for questioning, detention, or following conviction,” she said.

A legal advisor for the Israeli Military Administration in the West Bank said that the new regulations actually benefited the Gaza residents, as they limited the prison terms of infiltrators.

Major Limor Tahnai, a legal advisor to Israel’s Military Administration of the West Bank, argued in a letter to the Center for the Defense of the Individual, an Israeli human rights organization, that the new regulations were meant to better the legal standing of deportees.

“These orders certainly do not harm ‘an enormous number’ of people, since only a miniscule number of deportation orders are issued by the military commander,” she wrote.

Tahnai added that the legal standing of Gaza residents living in the West Bank was primarily a political question. The military commander only decided on the implementation of government policy.

Baker Hafi, a bee farmer, has lived in the West Bank city of Tul Karem since 1999. He was deported to Gaza in 2009 following a prison sentence, before an Israeli judge could hear his plea.

“Just one day before my prison term was extended I was deported to Gaza,” Hafi told The Media Line. “No one spoke to me, no one asked me. They didn’t even tell me where they were taking me. My eyes were covered and I was driven to Jerusalem. From there I was transferred to Beer Sheva and from there to the Gaza roadblock.”

“I haven’t seen my wife and two beautiful daughters in eight months and six days,” Hafi said. “I now live with my parents in Tel A-Za’atar [in Gaza].”

“I have no place to live here,” Hafi added, “I don’t belong to this world. All my sentiments belong not here but in Tul Karem, where I own a home.”

Hafi’s wife said she and her daughters moved back to her parents’ home, because life alone has proven too difficult.

“I hope he returns soon,” she told The Media Line. “His mental state is very bad. He says that life there is not worth living.”


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