Ahmad is waiting for almost a decade to join his wife and children in the US. This does neither coincide with US law, which gives special consideration to immediate relatives of US citizens, nor with the understanding that there is no waiting list for immigrants who are immediate relatives.

My friend Ahmad, who you may have come across in my earlier blogs, is a Palestinian Bedouin from the Jahalin tribe, living near Jerusalem. He is 42-years old and married to a Palestinian American woman, who lives in Cleveland, Ohio, with their children, who are all American citizens.

In 2007, soon after their marriage, the couple submitted an immigrant application so that they could live together in the United States. Since then, the application is “in process” and for over nine years they are awaiting a response.

Trying to make a living

Ahmad was born as the tenth and youngest child in a Bedouin family, while his mother, his father’s third wife, was herding the goats. The family lived on the West Bank in a cave and later in a tent, until they moved to a stone house in the village Al Zaim, when Ahmad reached the age of 12.

According to Ahmad, when growing up he was increasingly confronted with Israeli oppression. At age 17, in a period of three months, he and his friends, in defiance of the Israeli occupation, wrote some graffiti on the separation wall and took part in a small demonstration. They also considered burning the car of a Palestinian neighbor who collaborated with the Israeli authorities, but they decided not to do so.

In fact, he was never involved with violence against authorities. Moreover, he once prevented bloodshed, by stopping a Palestinian man from attacking Israeli Jews. Nonetheless, first he was imprisoned for the graffiti, then for considering to burn the car, and later for entry into Israel, leaving him with a criminal record.

View from Al Zaim on Mount of Olives, unreachably behind the wall, February 2017

View from Al Zaim on Mount of Olives, separated by the wall, February 2017

Ahmad, who as a child sold aluminum he found, in order to finance his school books, finished high school. As one of the very few of his tribe in these years, he continued studying in Al Quds University, in Abu Dies. He obtained a BA in media and is finalizing an MA in Political Science. He became known as promoter of peaceful ways of coexistence and received a scholarship for a doctoral program in the United States.

Meanwhile, he tried to make a living in various professions, among others as a security guard in Israel. After the closure of the wall, he was forced to remain in Al Zaim, on the Palestinian side of the wall, looking at Jerusalem. This situation has been unbearable for him and, seeing himself as a global citizen, he longs to leave the country and be free.

A battle for freedom

When they got married, Ahmad and his wife didn’t expect any difficulty in moving to the US, where relatives of both their families live. But things turned out to be complicated and highly frustrating, because their case remained pending for years.

His wife would visit the West Bank and live there for a few months, until she would return to the US to give birth. (Giving birth in the West Bank could possibly impede the baby’s US citizenship.) Thus, she and their oldest children were on the move between the two countries for several years, with detrimental effects for her career, for the upbringing of the children, and for their social integration. After having done so for the first three boys, they could not anymore afford the travel costs and she stayed with the children in the US.

Time and again they submitted extra information to the American consulate in Jerusalem, which was regularly followed by a message that they would receive a response within a couple of months. In the meantime, they turned to five different lawyers and to two Senators, in order to get an update from the Jerusalem consulate, but in vain. The years apart have taken a huge emotional toll on the – separated – family. Moreover, not knowing whether he’d receive a visa created immense uncertainty. Ahmad’s life has been on hold; whatever he did, he had to consider that perhaps he’d have to leave things in the middle.

Ahmad & Daniel, with sculptures of Javier Marin, The Hague, 2009

Ahmad and I, in front of sculptures of Javier Marin, The Hague, August 2009

 

Little story: Jerusalem, Summer 2003. I was going home after a long day of work as Professional Director of a Mental Health Institute involved with Holocaust survivors. I descended from the intercity bus at the central station and halted a taxi. I looked inside and saw that another passenger had already taken a seat. When asking about this person, the driver said “do not bother; I will take you both”. I didn’t give it much thought and entered the car. During the short drive, the three of us started talking. I enjoyed our conversation and at the end of our ride, I invited them in for coffee. The driver was an Israeli Arab man, living in Al Zaim, a village close to Jerusalem, and the passenger was his fellow villager, Ahmad. Since then we are friends.

 

Ahmad and I are diverse in many ways: religion, nationality, culture, personality and appearance. And, perhaps because of that, we continue to enjoy each other’s company and frequently hang out together. We also travelled several times to Europe, especially since it is easier to get him an entrance permit to the Netherlands, France or Italy, than to Israel, where he worked until the separation wall was built, or to the United States, where his wife and children live.

 

I much appreciate Ahmad’s positive outlook on life.

Ahmad is now the father of four boys, between nine and four years old, but he can neither give them fatherly guidance, nor visit them. He has not seen his wife and children for almost five years, and never met his youngest son. He tried to obtain a tourist visa, but this application was declined, on the pretext that his immigrant application is still in process.

Living alone as a man is unacceptable in the Bedouin community. Having lived for most of his married life without the vicinity of his wife, he did consider a divorce, so that he could remarry with a local woman. However, realizing that he then would have to give up on his children, to whom he feels greatly connected, this was not an option.

His wife hardly manages with the boys, who not surprisingly suffer from attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder. Her adolescent daughter from a previous marriage – who has US citizenship as well – lives with them. If there weren’t enough difficulties, last year their house in Ohio burned down; no one was hurt, but they lost all their belongings.

Recently, Ahmad and his wife filed a suit against the consulate, through The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), compelling the American consulate to issue a decision on the visa request. Already, irreparable damage was done to the lives of Ahmad, his wife, and their children. Furthermore, the start of the Trump era strengthened anti-Muslim sentiments. Still, with the assistance of CAIR and their attorney, Ahmad and his wife are hopeful, that the American court will make an end to their miserable situation and reunite their family in the land of freedom.

The response from the consulate is pending.