Pablo Neruda once wrote: “You can cut all the flowers, but you cannot keep spring from coming.” And so it was, that 21-year-old Rami Qedra, a Muslim Palestinian MAN from Beit Lahia, a town north of Gaza, fell in love with Galit Popok, a 17-year-old Jewish Israeli girl from upper Nazareth, where he worked as a blacksmith.
The young lovers came from worlds apart. They not only came from different religious and social backgrounds, but also belonged to two nations at war, hers occupying his.
However, none of that disrupted the laws of attraction. Galit officially converted to Islam and the two lovers were married on Dec. 15, 1999. They settled in Gaza and had six children over seven years, four girls and two boys.
But unlike fairytales, where the lovers ‘live happily ever after,’ reality insisted on dealing the couple a wild card that turned the Qedra family’s life upside down.
In September 2006, while Rami was at work, Galit went back to Israel, taking with her, three of her six children.
Accompanying Galit were five-year-old Tamam, four-year-old Mahmoud and Daniel, who was a year and a half old. Galit left three daughters behind, including an infant with special needs, the 40-day-old Dalia and her twin Sulaima, as well as her eldest, six-year-old Yasmine.
In Israel, the children received new Jewish names and documents. Tamam became Tami, Mahmoud’s new name became Maor and Daniel retained his name. All three were raised in Israel as Israeli Jews, while their three sisters were raised in Gaza as Palestinian Muslims.
In 2009, Rami was killed in an Israeli drone strike. Both the Qedras and Galit have since been engaged in a legal battle over the custody of the children. Galit demands that her three daughters join her as Israeli Jewish citizens in Israel, while Rami’s parents insist that the three in Israel be returned to Gaza.
The Qedra Family’s Narrative
From their house in Gaza, Rami’s 62-year-old father, Mahmoud Qedra, or Abu Rami as he prefers to be called, and his 55-year-old wife Tamam, seem much older than their actual years, burdened by the death of their son and the loss of three of their six grandchildren.
Abu Rami shuts his eyes for a long second before opening them again to the sky above. His last 10 years have been of those constant struggle and grief.
With a big sigh, he proceeds to tell Newsweek Middle East how his son and Galit officially tied the knot at the Sharia Court in Nazareth before settling in Gaza.
“Galit lived in Beit Lahia like a princess,” he recalls, explaining that she was provided with everything she needed and that she enjoyed stability and love. Galit was a “nice woman,” according to Abu Rami, adding that her mother’s influence over her was what destroyed everything.
“Her mother was against the marriage because my son was an Arab. But her father supported the marriage,” says Abu Rami.
He recalls an incident nearly a year before Galit returned to Israel with three of her children. Her mother, Ira, invited Rami and his wife to visit her in Nazareth in 2005, but as soon as they arrived, they discovered it was a set-up.
According to Abu Rami, Israeli intelligence personnel stormed the couple’s accommodation in Nazareth and gave Rami two choices: Either stay with the children in Israel and work for them as a collaborator in exchange for privileges; or return to Gaza alone without his wife and children. If he were to refuse, he “would pay a high price,” they threatened him, says Abu Rami. The threat was mentioned in a letter written by Rami and addressed to several human rights organizations, shortly before he died.
When Rami discovered that his mother-in-law worked for the Israeli security, with sources saying she worked for the Mossad, he took his wife and children and fled Nazareth. The family illegally entered Gaza through a fence, as it was too dangerous to cross any of the Israeli military checkpoints. At that time they had four children, says Abu Rami.
“When Ira realized that Rami and her daughter had escaped, she called Rami and threatened him saying, ‘you will regret this,’” he adds.
The grieving father says his son refused to turn against his people and work as an Israeli collaborator, preferring to live in Gaza over enjoying a better life in Israel.
Tamam explains that the night before Galit left, young Daniel had a fever.
“I asked her to take Daniel to the doctor while I would take care of the twins. Galit carried Daniel, and Mahmoud followed her,” says Tamam, adding that’s all what she saw.
Abu Rami said Galit used his mobile to make a phone call. Then she also asked for some money, which he says he gave her.
Rami’s brother, Murad, 31, says the family received a phone call from a friend at Beit Hanoun (Erez) Israeli checkpoint informing them that Galit and her three kids were leaving Gaza.
“I took a taxi and rushed to the checkpoint; unfortunately I was late by a couple of minutes,” says Murad.