Not-Quite-Voluntary Exiles Swell Ranks of Deported Palestinians
AMMAN, Jordan (AP) _ With three healthy kids, a job at an ad agency and an Asian maid, Amal Wahdan might look like a role model for the modern Palestinian career mother.
But she’s one of thousands of less-than-voluntary exiles who left or got stuck outside their homeland in the five years since the start of the Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Thursday, Israel ordered more than 400 suspected Muslim fundamentalists deported to Lebanon in retaliation for the slaying of an Israeli border guard. From the beginning of the uprising until Thursday, 73 had been officially deported.
But in practical terms, the number of uprising exiles runs into the thousands. No one knows the exact number.
After her husband, Mohammed Labadi, was deported three years ago, Ms. Wahdan sought an Israeli exit permit. It was granted - on condition that she doesn’t return for three years.
″The Israelis know what to do. They throw you away and break the thread,″ she said.
Abu Raad al-Arraj, a member of the Palestinian parliament-in-exile and secretary-general of its Committee in Support of the Uprising, said growing numbers of West Bank and Gaza Palestinians have been caught in Catch-22 situations since the uprising started.
They include people who only wanted to go abroad for a few days or a few weeks for medical care, to see dying relatives or to try to enroll in university, Arraj said in his Amman office.
″Israeli occupation authorities tell you ‘either you don’t leave or you leave for three to five years,’ ″ Arraj said, sitting at a desk heaped with computer printouts listing deportees and supplications from stranded Palestinians.
Arraj said at least 4,000 would-be students from the West Bank and Gaza have been in limbo in Jordan since autumn, unable to gain admission to the kingdom’s crowded universities or to return home for at least three years.
The Palestinian Human Rights Information Center in Jerusalem says another 10,000 Palestinians are stuck in Jordan because they had been working in the Gulf when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990.
In the ensuing chaos, they didn’t make it home in time to renew their Israeli-issued residence permits.
These must be renewed in person every three years or the right to return is forefeited.
To Palestinian nationalists, this is a way to make room for more Jewish settlers by getting rid of as many Palestinians as possible.
To the Israelis, it’s a way to try to contain a revolt in which nearly 1,700 Palestinians and about 120 Israelis have been killed.
About 1,000 of the Palestinians were slain by Israeli troops or civilians. The rest were killed by Palestinians, usually as suspected collaborators.
Mohammed Labadi, 37, used to be an electrician when he wasn’t in Israeli jails accused or convicted of working for the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Today, he works with a half-dozen other Palestinians in a wholesale clothing business in Amman.
His wife, a 34-year-old economics graduate of the West Bank’s Bir Zeit University, used to be an energetic organizer of women’s groups and had contacts with Israeli groups like Peace Now.
Today, she’s working on a telephone yellow-pages project for an Amman advertising agency.
Their children - 8-year-old Liana, 6-year-old Khaled and 20-month-old Hala - were conceived between Labadi’s prison terms.
Between 1977 and 1989, he was arrested 10 times and spent five years in Israeli jails.
Most of the detentions were for suspicion or conviction of activities for the PLO.
They included organizing workers and distributing leaflets for the Marxist Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
According to Israeli military affairs writers Ehud Yaari and Zev Schiff, Labadi was a key coordinator for the early days of the uprising, writing clandestinely distributed leaflets calling for general strikes and other protests.
In a book on the uprising, Yaari and Schiff told of Ms. Wahdan hiding the leaflets in her car and distributing them around the West Bank.
Ms. Wahdan said she and her husband were caught in April 1988 after they were identified by friends who had been arrested.
Labadi was jailed for 14 months. On June 28, 1989, he was taken to Israel’s self-styled ″security zone″ in south Lebanon and set free.
Ms. Wahdan spent three months in prison and was allowed to return to the couple’s home in the West Bank town of Beit Hanina.
After her husband was deported, she faced a wrenching decision: stay in the West Bank to look after her ailing 70-year-old mother or leave so she and the children could be reunited with Labadi.
She finally left for Amman in December 1990.