One man’s journey from Youngstown to life as a businessman on West Bank

One man’s journey from Youngstown to life as a businessman on West Bank

President Barack Obama correctly placed Middle East peace on top of his agenda, but he must be careful. International law must be his guiding light; anything less is just prolonging the conflict and playing short-term politics.

I live in my father’s birthplace of Al Bireh, eight miles north of Jerusalem. We enjoy a yard with dozens of fruit-bearing plants, and yet we are literally a three-minute walk to downtown Ramallah, our commercial center. Our bedroom window affords us a clear view of one of the many eyesores that pepper West Bank hilltops: an illegal Israeli settlement.

When Palestinians and Israelis signed the infamous Oslo Peace Accords in 1993, I set my sights on relocating to Palestine to participate firsthand in what everyone believed was the beginning of the end of Israel’s military occupation of Palestinians.

Israel controls every port of entry into the West Bank. My father, who first left Palestine for the United States in 1957, was not physically here when the 1967 Six-Day War took place so he was not counted in the census that the Israeli military conducted upon seizing control. Palestinians who were present were issued identification cards, which granted them permanent residency. To this day, my father can only return to his birthplace as a U.S. tourist for a maximum of three months. Having been born in the United States, I entered the same way for 15 years. After marrying my Palestinian wife, I applied to the Israelis for residency back in 1994. Lack of permanent residency meant that I was forced to leave and re-enter the country every few months.

In 2006, during one of my visa renewal trips to Jordan, I was given (after a six-hour wait) a tourist visa, but this time my U.S. passport had handwritten in it, in Hebrew, Arabic and English: “Last Permit.” The Israelis forced me to make a choice: leave or stay in Palestine and overstay my visa, which would be cause for deportation as soon as an Israeli patrol stopped me, as regularly happens. I created a third option…

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