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Palestinian Mother of 12 Expelled to Gaza After Living in Israel for 30 Years

12:00 Aug 6 2023 Ofakim (אוֹפָקִים / אֳפָקִים‎ أوفاكيم)

Palestinian Mother of 12 Expelled to Gaza After Living in Israel for 30 Years Palestinian Mother of 12 Expelled to Gaza After Living in Israel for 30 Years
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Photo:
Agzayeh Karan, 51. Published by Haaretz

Karan's daughters in the Arab Bedouin village of Khashem Zaneh in southern Israel on Saturday. Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz Published by Haaretz
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Agzayeh Karan was born in Gaza but had been in Israel since 1992 after she married an Israeli citizen. A mother of 12 including four minors, Karan was not permitted to speak with her children or a lawyer once the deportation process began

by Hagar Shezaf for Haaretz
Aug 27, 2023 6:00 am IDT

The Israel Police abruptly expelled to Gaza a woman who was born in the Strip, the mother of 12 children with Israeli citizenship, including four minors.

Fifty-one-year-old Agzayeh Karan was deported without a hearing and less than a day after she was arrested during a routine check on her way to her workplace because she did not have a valid residency permit. She was transferred to a police station and from there to the Erez crossing within a few hours, without being allowed to speak with her children or consult with a lawyer. Karan’s ex-husband left the family years ago, and her underage children are now in Israel without any parents.

Karan came to Israel in 1992 and married an Israeli citizen. She lived in the village of Hashem Zaneh in the Negev. Her youngest child is seven. Through the years, Karan had renewed her residence permit in Israel every six months. After her husband left, she says, she did not renew the permit because the procedure involved a fee, and she had no money. Karan told Haaretz that she cannot write and that her husband burned her documents when he left her.

About three weeks ago, on a Sunday morning, Karan was on her way to her job picking vegetables when a police officer stopped the car she was in and asked the passengers for their IDs. When he found out that she had neither an ID certificate nor a residency permit, he took her to the police station in the city of Ofakim. “All those years, nothing like this ever happened to me,” she says. “I go to the market, come back, bring things for my children and work in agriculture to support them. I told the policeman I don’t have an ID, that my husband left me.”

At the police station, she says, she was interrogated, her cell phone was confiscated, and she was not allowed to talk to her children or to consult a lawyer. She was told that she would be expelled to Gaza at the station.

“I told them, ‘wait, I need my children.’ I didn’t see my children before they took me. I have a daughter in second grade, they didn’t let me see her. I have four very little ones,” Karan told Haaretz in a phone call from Gaza, during which she wept. From the station, she was brought to the Erez checkpoint, where she was questioned again and, she says, was asked how many children she had. After about four hours, she was ordered to return to Gaza. “I am the caregiver of my children, their father and mother, the only one responsible for them,” she says. “Their emotional state is horrible now; they scream, asking me where I am and when I’m coming. Where are my human rights?”

Karan is staying with her brother in Dir al-Balah, in central Gaza. Her 12 children, all of them Israeli citizens and four of them under the age of 18, remain in Israel. Two of her adult children take turns looking after their younger siblings. “I can’t be there for them all the time, they need their mother,” Sagar al-Hamidi, her 27-year-old son, told Haaretz. “She has to return to her children. School starts soon and there’s no one to take care of them. She was the only one who took care of them.”

Hamidi and Karan say that her youngest has had trouble sleeping since her mother went away and goes to the doctor almost every day. “She can’t sleep without her mother, she was very attached to her and suddenly one day her mother disappears,” Hamidi says.

In the wake of a 2008 cabinet resolution, Israel prohibits the granting of residency or citizenship based on family unification to Gazans who are married to Israeli citizens. However, Gazans such as Karan who married before the resolution was adopted have in some cases received permission to remain in Israel and periodically renew their status at the Interior Ministry.

“It’s important to understand that in light of the policy governing movement between Gaza and Israel, as soon as she was thrown to the Gaza side of the Erez checkpoint, the wall effectively closed on her. The chance that she will be able to enter Israel again is near zero,” says Michal Luft, an Israeli lawyer who specializes in immigration and human rights law. “Without knowing the details of the case in order to confirm them, it can be said that the police have done irreversible damage to the woman and her family.

The protocols regarding the entry of Palestinians from Gaza to Israel, even if they have immediate relatives in Israel, are particularly strict and usually do not allow the parties to meet. For example, adults who are in Israel but whose parents are in Gaza can get a permit to visit them only in the event of serious illness, wedding, or funeral.

As a general rule, the police remove Palestinians without a residency permit in Israel to beyond the checkpoints. West Bank residents may be able to cross the border illegally or obtain a residency permit. When it comes to the Gaza Strip, the exits from which are hermetically sealed, this is nearly impossible.

According to Osnat Cohen-Lifshitz, a lawyer who heads the legal department of Gisha, a human rights organization that works to protect the freedom of movement of Palestinians, Karan’s case is unusual given that she has four minor children from whom she was separated without any warning or hearing. “There is no doubt that the state had a duty to hear the case,” she says. “In a case where there is such an egregious violation of human and children’s rights, the state must consider the welfare of the children in every action it takes. At the very least, it is obligated to hold a hearing, something that is anchored in the principles of administrative law and court rulings regarding foreign citizens and residents of Gaza.”

The Israel Police said in a written response that “the suspect was detained for questioning at the police station after she was caught staying in Israel illegally and was later transferred in accordance with practice to the Erez crossing.”

Haaretz asked the office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, the agency responsible for permits for Palestinians and their transit through the Erez checkpoint, but COGAT officials referred Haaretz to the Interior Ministry. The ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority said in a response that “removal to the territories is not within the authority’s jurisdiction.”
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