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Torn between elderly mother in Ramallah and family in Jordan

'Abd a-Nasser Abu J'afer,

merchant

I am twenty-six years old, live in Nablus , am married and have two children who now live in Jordan . In 1996, I went to visit my aunt, where I met my cousin Arij. We fell in love and I proposed. Her parents agreed, provided that she could continue her university studies. I agreed even though that meant waiting for four years. I loved her and was willing to wait for her my whole life.

On 11 August 2000, I married Arij in Nablus . In advance of the wedding, she obtained a visitor's permit for three months, and when it expired, she renewed it for four more months. When it once again expired, Arij traveled to Jordan '… On 30 March 2001, I submitted a request for family unification on her behalf. Whenever I went to the Interior Ministry to check the status of the request, they told me that there wasn't anything new, and that the Israelis weren't approving requests. I did not think that it would be dragged out for a long time.

A few months before we married, I bought a house in Nablus for my wife and me. I furnished it nicely. Before she traveled to Jordan , I would finish work early and return home to be with her. Since then, I keep arranging and cleaning the house to make it ready for her return. After she went to Jordan , and they [the Israelis] stopped handling requests for family unification and visitor's permits, I felt that I couldn't live in our house. In the past year and a half, I did not enter the house even once. I went to live with my mother and my three brothers.

I went to Jordan as often as I could. In the first year after Arij went to Jordan , I went there once a month. After that, when the army's actions in Nablus continued, I went every two and half months, each time for a few days. Each visit costs more than a thousand dinars, because of the travel expense and presents for my wife and her parents. I also spend a lot on telephone calls. One of my telephone bills was for 1,400 shekels. I make the calls by using a telecard, at a cost of about one hundred shekels a day.

On 25 December 2002, our first son, Jamal, was born. Our second son, Ihab, was born on 24 April 2004. They were both born in Jordan . Since then, the situation has gotten much worse. I worry about my wife and children and long for them.

When I got married, I was in very good financial shape. I have a men's clothes shop and earned a good living. But my situation is getting worse day by day. I no longer have a desire to work and am unable to concentrate at work. I was once a great salesman, with my own special style. Now I don't have the patience to deal with customers. Whenever my wife calls, she is sad because of the situation, and she asks me to go to her. I don't have enough money to make the trip. Two years ago, I tried to move to Jordan . Arij was pressuring me and I didn't have another solution. My mother begged me not to go. She said that she doesn't want to die when I am far away. She is seventy years old and ill. I was torn between my wife's pleas, the longing for my children, and the insistent pleading of my mother. I convinced my mother that I was leaving for a short time, until the intifada ends. I went to Jordan , rented a shop and lived with my wife's family. I planned to live there until I made a steady living. But the clothes shop that I opened did not succeed, and I had trouble acclimating. I really missed my mother, family, friends, and my city. I returned to Nablus .

I feel so sad when I speak with Jamal and he asks, "Daddy, when will you come?" I was sad and cried when my wife told me about the time that the children were playing with her brother's children, and when their father came, the children ran to him, and Jamal told her, "My daddy will come tomorrow." The saddest thing that comes to mind is that a few days after Ihab was born I returned to Nablus . Two months later, I again went to Jordan, and when I got to Arij's parents' house, and approached Ihab, I saw that he had changed, that he had grown and had clear, small and beautiful facial features. My mother-in-law told me jokingly, "He is not your son." I flinched and was shocked. She immediately said that he was my son and that she had been joking. I rushed over to my son, hugged him, and cried. How can a father not recognize his son? Some time passed before I stopped crying.

I have not gone to Jordan for three months now because I don't have the money to pay for the trip. I cut back on telephone calls. We speak every four or five days. I don't know what to do. I never threw a stone or took part in a demonstration. A month ago, a few army jeeps entered the city, and for the first time in my life, I picked up a stone and threw it at the jeeps. I even stood there facing a jeep, hoping the soldiers would fire at me and kill me, but it didn't happen. I started to smoke a lot. I smoke more than fifty cigarettes a day. When I see my friends with their wives and children, I am frustrated that I don't live as they do. How long do I have to wait?

I follow the news, hoping there will be some improvement in the peace process. I am waiting for a Sharm a-Sheikh summit. I feel terribly lonely. My mother becomes sad when she sees me like this. I can't work as I should or be with friends because they are married and spend their time with their families. The only thing that makes it easier for me to endure the distance separating me from my children is my nieces and nephews. When I hold them, I feel as if they are my children. For four years I have been waiting for her. The fifth year has just begun.

'Abd a-Nasser Taleb Mahmud Abu J'afer, 28, married an father of two, is a merchant and a resident of Nablus. His testimony was given to Salma Dab'i at the witness's house on 8 February 2005.