Eight years ago in the beautiful coastal mediterranean city of Akka, I stood wearing my wedding dress, with my fancy hair and make-up, in front of a mirror and gave myself a pep talk.
"You got this," I said to myself. "Let's try and make the most out of an extremely awkward situation".
I took a deep breath, planted a forced smile on my face, left the small dressing room at the back of the hall and walked into my wedding party. My husband wasn't there. I got married alone.
The reason for this absurd situation is that both my husband and I are not Jewish. I am a Palestinian citizen of Israel, and even though my family tree can be traced back to 1266, Israel treats me like a second-class citizen, because my mere existence in my homeland is considered a "demographic threat". And while, Jewish Israelis have an easy pathway for spousal visas, Palestinian citizens of Israel don't.
Denying the right to family reunification is one of many forms of abuse Israel inflicts on the Palestinian people. It is an example of how Israel exerts its control and domination through oppressive and violent power structures over 14 million Palestinians, in and outside of Palestine. In Israel, there are more than 65 laws that discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel, from land ownership to the right of return. These laws culminated in the "Nation-State" law, a law which formalised what Palestinians have been saying for decades about Israel - that it was a Jewish-supremacist state that has been committing crimes against humanity since its inception in 1948. Then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu left no room for doubt when he said in 2019 that "Israel is not a state of all its citizens", but rather "the nation-state of the Jewish people and only them" .
Palestinians in the diaspora and refugee camps are denied their right to return to their homeland and reunite with their families, even though Jewish people worldwide have an automatic right to migration and immediate citizenship. In Israel, Palestinians are subjected to discriminatory laws, police violence, and ongoing land theft attempts. Palestinians in the West Bank live under draconian movement restrictions, surrounded by checkpoints, walls and ever-expanding settlements. In Gaza, Palestinians live under an illegal and inhumane siege imposed by Israel. The situation in Gaza is a humanitarian crisis. It is undeniable that there are two different laws that operate between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, and it is ethnicity, not geography, that determines which set of laws you live under. Under these laws and policies, Palestinian people are systematically and structurally discriminated against.
This is why this past week Amnesty International has been able to categorically assert that Israel is practising the crime of apartheid. Not just in the West Bank and Gaza, but in all its policies towards all Palestinians. A conclusion that echoes earlier reports by Palestinian human rights organisations, Israeli human rights organisations, and Human Rights Watch.
So living under these systems and structures, what do Palestinians do? Many live suffocated lives. Others try and live the best they can - building houses or marrying without Israeli sanctions - knowing Israel might demolish their homes or evict their spouse if they find out.
My husband and I have moved to Australia, and now live on Wurundjeri country - knowing they too know all too well what dispossession and apartheid policies feel like. I am so relieved that my children aren't treated as a threat just because they were born Palestinian.
Israel is committing apartheid against Palestinians. But that's not news for Palestinians and their allies. It was nearly 20 years ago that Archbishop Desmond Tutu said the experience of Palestinians is reminiscent of apartheid South Africa. While it may be confronting for some people to hear the word used for Israel, I can assure you the reality of living, studying and raising a family under these conditions is much more confronting and damaging.
Australia can be proud of the role it took in dismantling apartheid in South Africa. It is time for Australia to step up again. I know this would require a shift, as Australia is a close ally of Israel. However, if we're interested in achieving a just and sustainable peace for all parties involved, we can no longer shy away from calling Israel's regime what it is. We must join Amnesty International in demanding that Israel dismantles its apartheid system and oppressive structures immediately.
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