Another Palestinian Pastor’s Wife Denied Entry By Israel

ASSIST Ministries reports on the plight of Suhad Massad, the wife of a Palestinian pastor who has been refused re-entry to Gaza by the Israeli authorities:

Suhad is a Jordanian citizen, residing in Gaza. Suhad and her husband, Rev. Hanna Massad, pastor the Gaza Baptist Church. Several months ago, Suhad and her 21-month-old daughter, Joyce, left their home in Gaza to visit her parents in Amman, where she gave birth to their second daughter, Jolene.

Recently, Dr. [Hanna] Massad was able to leave Gaza to come to Amman to take his wife and family back home. For some reason, Suhad’s visa application was denied, and only Pastor Hanna was able to return to Gaza (Joyce is an American Palestinian. Jolene is an American and will be issued a Palestinian ID when she enters Gaza).

So much for the Gaza “withdrawal” being a step forward for Palestinian self-determination, then. This was on 27 October; a more recent report adds:

…On Monday, Rev. Massad spoke with his attorney, who confirmed that their only option is to once again take the case to the Supreme Court in Jerusalem. This is not the first time Pastor Hanna has been forcibly separated from his family. In 2002, shortly after their marriage, Suhad returned to visit her parents in Amman and was refused a visa to return to her husband. Then, as now, a Supreme Court decision was required to reunite the couple.

No answer from the court is expected until late November.

This is the second ordeal for the Massads; the couple were separated for fourteen months in 2001-2002. Back in August, I blogged on the similar case of Grace El Yateem, the wife of the Lutheran minister Khader El Yateem. The El Yateems are both Palestinian-Americans, but during a trip to see relatives in Beit Jala Grace and their children were denied entry into Israel at the Jordanian border. The two cases highlight a widespread tragedy that’s been unfolding in recent months, and which the Middle East Times reported on a few days ago:

Last May Adel Samarra’s wife of 31 years left the West Bank to go to Jordan to renew her Israeli visa for the 126th time.

…Like thousands of other Palestinians, Samarra was left stranded by Israel’s recent decision to close a loophole that allowed thousands of foreign passport holders to remain in the Palestinian territories by renewing tourist visas every three months.

The new policy, which Israeli officials say is merely enforcement of an already existing law, has divided scores of Palestinian families and threatens to split up many more.

…The Israeli crackdown on the tourist visas is part of a broader campaign to undermine the Hamas government, observers say, but Palestinians say that it is collective punishment for their democratic choice in January’s parliamentary elections.

…Those turned away have been predominantly American passport holders, of which there are about 35,000 living in the West Bank and Gaza, according to the US embassy in Tel Aviv.

Apparently we’re not supposed to ask ourselves why so many people living under Israeli occupation have been obliged to follow such a strategy for such a long time (and much less should we compare their situation with the ease by which Jewish immigrants make their way to residency in Israeli settlements in the same Palestinian Territories). The cases of El Yateem and Massad, however, suggest that the policy of exclusion extends beyond just those who have to re-enter the country frequently in order to stay with their families.

When I blogged the El Yateem case, I suggested that some American politicians might like to bring some pressure to bear – particularly Michael McCaul and Joe Crowley, two US congressmen who made a huge show of their concern over “the plight of Palestinian Christians” back in June (as I blogged here). The two men sponsored a draft resolution calling for Palestinian Christians to be protected from Muslim extremists and from the Palestinian Authority; unsurprisingly, the phrase “Israeli occupation” was kept firmly off the agenda. Of course, this was all just cant and wind – the reality of Palestinian Christians suffering as a result of Israel’s policies stirred no interest, let alone indignation.

The situation of Suhad Massad is unlikely to inspire much action either, and details of her 2002 exclusion fell on deaf ears in Washington. ASSIST reported at the time:

Friends in the United States have tried to help by asking Rep. Dick Armey (R-TX), Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, and others to intercede on Pastor Hanna’s behalf. Every request was refused.