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Haaretz: “Quality time”

by Gideon Levy,

The Jordanian MIRS chirps on the table. “Where’s Nur?” asks the woman on the line from Amman. “She’s standing next to me,” replies her husband in Azariyeh, east of Jerusalem. A chirp every few minutes. Yihye Bassa, a 40-year-old date merchant, has for several years been forbidden for security reasons to travel to Jordan; Nibin, his wife, 26, is forbidden to come here. He barely knows the two girls, 4-year-old Nur and 1-year-old Talin. They are with their mother in Jordan. Yihye met Nur for the first time two years after her birth, when he was still allowed to travel to Jordan; he met Talin for the first time a few weeks ago, on the Allenby Bridge.

In an unusual and very moving humanitarian gesture, Israel let the couple meet for three hours on the Allenby Bridge, after preventing them from seeing each other at all for about two years. Family reunification: a half-meeting on the bridge, without refreshments, as a “pre-High Court of Justice petition” gesture. Moreover, Israel allowed Nur to join her father for a few months, and now she is here, in Azariyeh. But 18-month-old Talin was not allowed to join her father. All for security reasons. Yihye says that his problems began when the Shin Bet security services wanted to recruit him as a collaborator and he refused. Since then he has been refused permission to leave.

Now Yihye is sitting in the offices of the new community center in Azariyeh that he runs on a voluntary basis. Nur is still confused by the new person in her life and the foreign landscape, and Nibin chirps from Jordan on her MIRS every few minutes to ask if everything is all right. Oh, the Israeli occupation.

Yihye Bassa is a Hebrew-speaking businessman, who buys dates in the Arava and the Beit She’an Valley and sells them in the West Bank and in Gaza with an Israeli partner. His paternal grandmother was Jewish. When he was still allowed to travel to Jordan, he had a company there too, which bought dates in Iraq and sold them in Jordan. Six years ago he married Nibin, a Palestinian from Jordan. Yihye divided his life between Amman and Azariyeh. Nibin has submitted several requests for an Israeli visa at the embassy in Amman – and was refused with the explanation that she is too young. The couple ran their lives with interruptions, in their home in Jordan. Yihye’s parents, his family and his business are here.

Four years ago, when Yihye was once again making his way to his wife and his business, he was arrested on the Allenby Bridge: Banned from crossing. Why? he asked. “Take a note, return to the area and go to the Shin Bet.” Yiyhe went to the Shin Bet and there, he says, “Captain Yariv” told him: “Help us – and we’ll help you.” He told them: “Why should I help you? I have money, work, what deal would I make with you?” In short: He refused an offer he couldn’t refuse.

Yariv tried again: “Go to your family, come and we’ll talk,” and again: “Help us and we’ll help you.” For the next two years, Yihye was prevented from traveling to Jordan. He turned to the civil rights organizations and with the help of his attorney, to the military court in Beit El. Meanwhile their daughter Nur was born in Jordan; Yihye did not see her. Two years later the court allowed him to travel to Jordan and he once again visited with his wife and daughter. Nur was already two years old when she saw her father for the first time. After two visits – he was refused again.

This time, he says, security people offered to let him go for four years, without the possibility of returning. Yihye refused this temporary expulsion. In 2005 he was arrested on suspicion of attempting to murder a collaborator. He was released on bail. Yihye says that it was a false arrest.

Exactly a year ago, in February 2006, they came to his house to arrest him again. This time he was placed in administrative detention for half a year, without a trial, and as is usual in administrative detentions, the reason is unknown. Yihye is an avowed Fatah activist, but his attorney, Walid Zahalka, says that he is not involved in terror. Half a year ago, he was released from detention. Last week the judge, Major Dror Sabrensky, ordered the erasure of the indictment against him, because of which he was arrested the first time, File 3405/05.

Upon his release from detention, he wanted once again to travel to Jordan, to visit his wife and daughters. In Amman, meanwhile, Talin was born, and he had never seen her. Again they offered to let him go for four years, without the possibility of returning, and again he refused. He is unwilling to cut himself off from his parents and his business dealings, his home is here. His attorney demanded one of two things: either he should be allowed to leave, or his wife should be allowed to enter.

In contacts between his attorney and the authorities, before turning to the High Court, the state prosecutor made a creative suggestion: a meeting on the bridge. Attorney Raanan Giladi of the State Prosecutor’s Office wrote on January 17, in the name of the State of Israel:

“Urgent. Re: Pre-High Court of Justice petition 562/06.

1. As you have been informed orally, the state is willing to allow a meeting between the petitioner and his family who live in Jordan.

2. The meeting will take place at the Allenby Bridge terminal, tomorrow, January 18, 2007.

3. We have been informed in writing by the manager of the Allenby Bridge terminal, Mr. Gideon Shikloush, that the meeting on the aforesaid date has been approved and that an appropriate place will be allocated for the purpose.

4. According to the details you have sent us, the family members who will be able to meet are as follows: Yihye, Nibin, Nur and Talin.

5. In case unexpected difficulties arise, we can be contacted by phone.”

In the morning Yihye got up and went to the bridge to meet his wife, his elder daughter, whom he had met twice, and his younger daughter, whom he had never met. At the terminal he was greeted by Sammy, who said he would take care of everything. But Sammy had an exam at Tel Aviv University and he soon disappeared. Yihye waited for three hours on the Israeli side, Nibin and the girls waited for three hours on the Jordanian side, until at about 1 P.M. they started walking toward one another. Yihye wanted to buy refreshments for his wife and daughters in the cafeteria on the Israeli side, but he was not allowed to do so, he says. They were placed in the VIP room at the terminal and were allowed to stay together until 4 P.M. Three hours after two years, quality time for the parents and the girls. “Nur knows me. She knows who I am. The little one doesn’t know who I am,” he said dryly.

When the meeting ended, Yihye wanted to take the girls with him for a visit to Azariyeh. No problem, they told him, but after a little while things became complicated: Nur could stay with her father, but only starting the next day. Not today. Why? Because. And how would he come to take her? And how would she cross the bridge alone? Only Nur, who has a Palestinian passport, could cross. Little Talin does not yet have a passport, a Palestinian passport can be issued only in the territories, and that’s why she can’t come in. A “catch-22.”

Yihye called Asaf, whose phone number appeared on the state prosecutor’s letter, in case “unexpected difficulties arise.” But in vain. Not today and not Talin. Nibin cried and Nur, who was promised that she would go with Daddy, also cried. He returned alone and despondent to his house in Azariyeh, without his younger daughter, without his elder daughter.

The spokesman for the Civil Administration, Captain Tzidki Maman: “From an investigation, it turns out that for security reasons resident Yihye Bassa is forbidden by security factors to travel to Jordan. As far as the entry of his wife and daughters, in the existing lists we found no documentation of requests to enter to visit the region. If requests are submitted in the usual manner, they will be examined in accordance with the instructions and the existing policy, with an emphasis on the humanitarian circumstances.”

Attorney Zahalka dismisses the response of the spokesman: “That’s nonsense. After all, we asked for one of the two, either that he be allowed to leave, or that his wife be allowed to enter.”

The end of the story: Last week Yihye’s mother went to Jordan, and on Shabbat she returned with her granddaughter Nur to Azariyeh, for a first visit with her father. Talin is still refused entry, as is her mother. Yihye pulls out three pictures from an envelope: His wife and his two daughters. Now Nur is playing with the computer in the pleasant and spacious community center run by her father, which was built with money from the German government, and asking where her mother is. This week her father registered her for the kindergarten in Azariyeh, until she goes back to her mother in Jordan. Occasionally the MIRS chirps and asks: “How is the child doing?”