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PA, Israel team up to fight mixed marriage

March 25, 2010 6:32 P.M. (Updated: July 8, 2010 2:28 P.M.)
By Mohammad Al-Lahham

Bethlehem – Ma'an – It wasn't the first time Israelis and Palestinians joined together in an attempt to break up a Jewish-Muslim couple, only the most recent. Years after authorities ended a similar relationship in Beit Sahour, near Bethlehem, they're at it again.

First it was phone calls from the woman's "family." "Hello, we represent Sima's family and we come in the name of … organization. We ask you to return the girl to her parents." "Hello, we represent Sima's father. He came to us as a clan and we demand that you return the girl." "Hello, I'm Rabbi ... . Tell your husband that we are ready to pay him half a million shekels if he returns you to your parents."

These were just a fraction of the phone calls that continued as the weeks and months went on since Muhammad Hamamra, from the Husan village west of Bethlehem, fell in love with a Jewish woman, Sima, from the neighboring settlement. Muhammad worked as a contractor in one of the Israeli houses there, and their relationship lasted four years before the two were recently married.

Then the Palestinian Authority got involved. "We're sorry Hamamra, the Islamic juridical court can't validate your Israeli marriage contract. We need the governor's approval." "The governorate can't grant you an approval; we need a decision from the security services." "Hello, you've been placed in this cell for four days because you're suspected of involvement in a criminal case."

Muhammad's psychological condition is poor; he seems distraught. His Jewish employer, at a gas station owned by Israeli settlers, fired him just for marrying one of his own, and after 10 years of loyal service. Israeli border police, meanwhile, have detained Muhammad and raided his home on more than one occasion.

They have also taken Sima more than once, bringing her before religious authorities in Israel to compel her to return, but she has refused. According to Israeli authorities, Sima was supposed to have wed a Jewish seminary student, and remains obligated to return to Israel.

The calls continue. "Hello, I'm calling the Palestinian Authority security forces to ask that you order the return of my daughter, who Muhammad Hamamra took from [the village of] Husan." "Hello, [responding to Ma'an inquiries], the security forces actually have no involvement in this matter."

The young lady's family is originally from the Syrian Jewish community, so the two share a common language. But the family, said to be very wealthy, never shared approval for their daughter's choice of a husband, and hired mercenaries, armed to the teeth, to raid the village of Husan during the wedding. Villagers expected a massacre, they later said, but the forces reportedly left without incident.

Sima says she embraced Islam and changed her name to Sujud. When Ma'an visited her home, she was praying and read a number of verses from the Quran, which she appears to know by heart. She also prepared lunch. She is eight months pregnant. Sujud told Ma'an in advance of a report to air on Al-Arabiya, that "there will be no peace in this region. I've lived with Jews and I know how they think, and I've lived with Arabs and know how they think. Both sides will not abdicate Palestine."

Sujud says that she understands her family's attempts to stop the marriage. What she doesn't understand is why the Palestinian authorities would cooperate in preventing the couple from completing legal papers for their marriage, especially since she is soon due to give birth to a baby girl. She explains: "I hate the [Israeli] occupation and the killing, and I hate the [Palestinian] Authority, which is punishing my husband. No one can take me from my husband. I love him, I love his family, and I love everyone in this village."

Ma'an approached the Islamic authorities, asking that they clarify a few points on the legality of preventing Jews and Muslims from marrying in the Islamic juridical court, and whether the Oslo Accords, which dictate Israeli and Palestinian obligations to either side, preclude marriage between Muslims and Jews.

On Wednesday afternoon, Palestine's chief justice finally responded to these inquiries by signing off on the marriage, ending weeks of tension but leaving a number of questions unanswered. Among them: when Sujud's father asked that the marriage be annulled, did the PA actually honor his requests? Or is the fact that the PA ruled exactly how he wanted purely coincidental? If not, who benefits from this arrangement?

A day after this article was published, Sujud's husband contacted Ma'an to thank the author, saying the marriage was approved only as a result of its publication.

(This version ADDS that the PA's Islamic ruling on the marriage was confirmed by both the husband and the chief justice on 8 July 2010.)

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