Lebanese Women in Gaza: No Way Home

Lebanese women married to Palestinians and living in Gaza face difficulties in returning to Lebanon for visits, including the difficulty of obtaining visas for their children.

Amahl Saghir flips through her passport, one page at a time. She gazes at the image of the cedar tree on the cover as her mind seems to wander beyond the borders of besieged Gaza to her hometown in South Lebanon, where her brothers and sisters live.

“This passport is useless,” Saghir says, putting it aside. “I’m Lebanese only by name. The state, government, and the Lebanese General Security Directorate (GSD) do not recognize me as a citizen with rights and needs.”

 

Since Saghir arrived in Gaza in 1994, she has only seen her family once – nine years ago, through an organization called the “Palestinian-Lebanese Friendship Society.” She says that she submitted her paperwork and received a 15-day visa, costing her $150, to visit her own country.

“I have been trying to go to Lebanon with my children for the past four years, but the GSD refuses my children’s applications,” says the Lebanese woman.

Saghir adds that she has applied four times, with all the necessary documents, including passports, national IDs, and “no objection” letters from the Palestinian interior ministry addressed to the Lebanese GSD.

The GSD asked her to “remarry her husband” in Gaza and send them the Gaza marriage certificate because her marriage was not registered in Lebanon.

“I married my husband again, sent the GSD the certificate, and anxiously waited for the visa,” Saghir recalls. “I was shocked when the GSD rejected my application for the fourth time. I made a formal appeal, but my own state did not allow me to enter with my children.”

The woman continues to explain how the GSD tried to help her out, asking her for a medical report stating that she is sick and needs her son as an escort. She turned down the new advice because she felt humiliated, as she put it.

“First they want me to marry my own husband again, and then they want me to forge medical reports,” she exclaimed. “At the same time, a Palestinian woman married to a Lebanese man can enter Lebanon with her own children with respect and without difficulty.”

Her son, Hussein, complains about what he describes as “ill-treatment” by the Lebanese GSD. “My mother is originally Lebanese. What international laws prevent the son of a citizen from entering his mother’s country to visit his relatives and uncles?” he says. “This shows resentment towards us.”

Hussein adds that while he and his mother had waited four years, some people receive the visa within just one week. “We don’t know if this needswasta [connections], or what,” he says.

Nariman Alloush also entered the Palestinian territories with her husband and children on a visitors’ permit in 1994. As soon as she received her Palestinian ID in 2008, she submitted all the necessary documents to the GSD in Beirut, applying for visas for herself and her children.

While she was granted a visa, her children’s applications were rejected. Her sister formally appealed, but that was turned down as well.

Alloush says that she was in Gaza when her mother died and she wanted to see her family after such a long absence. “I could not bear the difficulties of traveling and the long waits on the border crossings alone,” she explains. “I needed someone with me, so I decided to take my children to Syria.”

Once there, she called the Lebanese embassy in Damascus to help her enter her home country. She says the response she received was that her children are Palestinian and cannot enter Lebanese territories.

“I don’t know if I committed a crime by marrying a Palestinian and giving birth to Palestinian children,” Alloush comments.

She asks whether the children of Lebanese women married to other non-Lebanese men are treated in the same way as her children. She asks why Palestinian-Lebanese are treated so differently.

Alloush’s friend, Kamila Abu Zaid, who also hails from South Lebanon, shares a similar story. She visited her home country once – in 2000 – through the Palestinian-Lebanese Friendship Society, which offered her a visa for $150.

“I told the Society that I’m Lebanese and have a Lebanese Civil Registry Record,” says Abu Zaid. She explained that she did not “need a visa or have to pay this amount, but they replied that this amount was for the Lebanese GSD, not the Society.”

Abu Zaid says that the problems Lebanese women face in Gaza are not just the inability to obtain visas for their children. Many of them are still not registered in Lebanon’s official departments as being married.

Um Muhammad returned from Beirut a few days ago, and she does not have a Lebanese passport – only a Lebanese ID and a Civil Registry Record.

She applied and submitted her documents to the GSD. She was sponsored by her brother, a GSD employee, and succeeded in obtaining visas for herself and her son five days later without any problems.

“But when I arrived at Beirut airport, I gave them my Lebanese ID with the Palestinian Authority (PA) passport to avoid having to renew the visa later. I was delayed for an hour at the airport,” she says.

Inaam al-Qaderi didn’t have any difficulties in getting a visa for her son either. She says that her brother submitted the necessary paperwork to the GSD and got the visa quickly. A few days after arriving in Lebanon, her son applied for a student visa to study at university. “The GSD gave him a six-month residency permit,” she says.


The Palestinian-Lebanese Friendship Society

The Palestinian-Lebanese Friendship Society, headed by Saleh al-Naarani, used to offer their “assistance” to Palestinian and Lebanese women living in Gaza, helping them obtain Lebanese visas for themselves and their children, in return for $150.

Al-Akhbar could not acquire much information on the nature of this organization’s operations or its Lebanese coordinating partners.

However, unconfirmed sources say the society was supported by a former Lebanese cabinet minister in partnership with PLO official Sultan Abul Aynayn, who now lives in Ramallah.

It was apparently shut down after Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip.Al-Akhbar was unable to contact Naarani in Denmark or Abu al-Aynayn in Ramallah.

Visa Procedures

Al-Akhbar called General Munir Aqiqi at the GSD and asked him about the procedures for granting entry to Lebanese women living in Gaza. He expressed surprise at hearing that they pay $150 per visa to Lebanon, insisting that “Lebanese women and men do not need visas to enter their country.”

“If they have Palestinian travel documents or any other citizenship by marriage, they can show their Lebanese IDs along with their foreign passports and get a visa on their documents at the airport free of charge,” he said.

As for their families, the general added, they are treated like all other foreigners and require entry visas. Thus, they need an invitation from Lebanon, through the PA embassy, copies of their passports, in addition to 25,000 Lebanese Lira (LL) ($17) for a 15-day stay, and LL50,000 ($34) for one month, which can be extended.

“They must not be wanted on security or criminal charges,” Aqiqi continues. “They must also have approval for the invitation before boarding the plane because airlines have instructions to prevent anyone from boarding without this approval.”

Once they arrive in Beirut, their visas are stamped on their document, he added.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


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