Humans of Palestine

CAGED: Sam Bahour says his U.S. passport doesn’t help at all when it comes to living in the occupied territories. The Israelis continue to limit the areas which he can access in the West Bank because he holds a Palestinian ID.

A Palestinian-American businessman who had to work hard to live in Palestine

BY Marian Houk

He was born in the United States, an American of Palestinian roots, whose father was born in the West Bank.
In 1993, and after marrying a Palestinian girl from Ramallah, Sam Bahour applied for Palestinian residency and ID card from the Israeli military.

“At that point, they gave me a receipt, which meant that I was expecting the family unification application to be processed, says Bahour.

Fifteen years later, on May 2009 he was issued a West Bank residency.

His Palestinian ID was part of a deal: Israel processed 30,000 applications—three lists of 10,000 names each—to pressure the Palestinian negotiators to come to one of the negotiations’ rounds which they didn’t want to go to.

“That’s a very sad reality, because these family unification applications should be dealt with as a humanitarian issue, not as a political card to be used for political leverage,” says Bahour.

For the thirteen years extending from 1993 till 2009, Bahour lived in Palestine on tourist visas, the only way the Israelis would allow him to be there, often leaving the country and reentering to obtain the stamp on his American passport.

“It was issued for just three months—or sometimes less than three months: sometimes one month, sometimes two weeks, and sometimes two days. So, I was in and out of the country—and every time, worrying Israel would not allow me to re-enter the country, given that they control all of the borders of Israel and the Israeli-occupied territories,” he says.

Following 2009, as he became a Palestinian ID-holder and resident, the Israelis refused to deal with Bahour as an American citizen.

In that sense, Bahour is now, much like the millions of Palestinians in the West Bank, confined to a limited geographical area that is not even all of the West Bank: Jerusalem is off-limits, and the Jordan Valley, at least a big part of it, is off limits as well.
“I’m confined to what I call the cage of the occupation, and that cage is not even the entirety of the occupied territory. I don’t even have access to go from the occupied territory to the sea,” complains Bahour.

Prior to getting his Palestinian ID, Bahour could enter and return through Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport on an Israeli-issued tourist visa.

But as a Palestinian ID holder, he can only move in and out of the West Bank via the Allenby Bridge “Karama Crossing” to Jordan.

“My major concern now is that the urgency of the situation is unseen in the United States. I believe the U.S. thinks the status quo can hold, not understanding that there is no status quo here, that there’s a continuous deterioration.”

Bahour explains that the U.S. can make everyone’s life easier by recognizing the State of Palestine. That would be, according to him, a real political move to push the process forth for a two-state solution rather than just talking about it. But the U.S. continues to drag on the matter.

Bahour also blames the lack of a functional Palestinian political system, which doesn’t enable the younger generation to take part in the decision making process to achieve the ultimate goal: a state of their own.

The younger generation, according to Bahour, “has been prohibited from being able to operate politically” and to him it constitutes “a failure of the leadership,” which civil society has to work to reinstate.

“Today the President’s opinion is just as valid as my 16-year-old daughter’s opinion, because neither has been tested in public at large,” he says.

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