Leila and Raed have been married for 16 years now, but they have not been able to live together for more than a year because of all the obstacles Israel puts in the way of so-called ‘mixed marriages’ between Jerusalemites and West Bankers.
Leila was born in Jerusalem and Raed in a village near Bethlehem, not more than ten miles away. They lived together in Bethlehem for a year when they were first married. Then Leila needed to move close to her mother in the Silwan district of Jerusalem, just by the Old City.
In 2000 the Israelis announced that West Bank spouses would no longer qualify for the blue Jerusalem ID card. Instead they could apply for six-month permits, but only on condition that they did not work, they did not drive and they did not qualify for healthcare.
Raed could not afford to live if he didn’t work, so he lived in Bethlehem. Before the wall was built, he was able to sneak in through the hills and the backroads for occasional visits. After 2004, his visits have been rarer.
He now comes once a month or six weeks to see his wife and six daughters aged 15, 13, 12, 9, 5 and 1½. But since his presence is illegal he’s never been able to visit their school.
Leila can apply for a permit to visit him in Bethlehem, but if they thought she was living there or even staying overnight, they could use it as an excuse to revoke her Jerusalem residency, which would mean she could not visit her mother.
When a daughter died at the age of four months, they gave Raed a one-day permit to attend the funeral, but he had to be back the same evening.
Raed was given a one-day permit to attend his daughter’s funeral
Three years ago another disaster struck. The bulldozers arrived early in the morning and demolished Leila’s house. She was round at her mum’s having coffee and the girls were at school. When they got back, there was just a pile of rubble.
The whole area of Al Bustan is threatened with demolition to make way for a King David park – or that’s what they say, but the residents believe it’s just an excuse to evict Palestinians from a central area of Jerusalem and the whole community is campaigning to save their homes.
“I have no husband at home and now no home at all – and it’s all because they want all non-Jews out of Jerusalem. It’s just to reduce the number of Palestinians,” says Leila.