New York, March 3, 2011—When Bashar Shweiki and Renan Natsheh began their training to become OneVoice activists in 2003, an Israeli law on family unification had just passed prohibiting Palestinians from gaining citizenship or residency through marriage to an Israeli citizen or permanent resident.
Bashar and Renan fell in love. Israeli law dictates that Arab residents of Jerusalem who do not possess Israeli citizenship must prove that the holy city is their domicile; to leave for prolonged periods of time is to risk revocation of their residency permit. Bashar and Renan are now engaged. Renan may have to choose between living apart from the man she loves or moving to the West Bank, losing her Jerusalem residency, and thus the right to visit her relatives in Israel.
It is a predicament in which thousands of Palestinians have found themselves since the Israeli government has taken a more hard-line stance on family unification—a stance borne out of the strife of the second intifada (uprising) and one that has been opposed by Israeli influencers, including former Chief Justice Aharon Barak and Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken, politicians, and civil rights organizations. For Bashar and Renan, the task of achieving a two-state solution through their work at OneVoice Palestine (OVP) is more pressing than ever.
Bashar and Renan began their training in earnest two and a half years ago, in the same cohort as Antwan Saca, now OneVoice Palestine’s media coordinator. “It was a very intimate group,” Saca recalls, “It was often like that in the early days of the youth leadership program because every one of us bore a huge responsibility for growing the movement.”
The long days of training seminars and exercises brought the recruits closer together. They would frequently share a hookah to unwind or celebrate positive developments at the nascent OVP. By the time the group had graduated to youth leader status, Bashar and Renan knew that a particularly special bond had formed between the two of them.
They paid no heed to the distances between them and continued to see each other. They will now become the first married couple to have met in OneVoice Palestine and their commitment to the cause has never been stronger. “We want to end the occupation so that our kids can grow up in a Palestinian state,” Bashar said.
Bashar cannot move to Jerusalem to live with Renan; that much is certain. If Renan leaves Jerusalem for too long, she faces the risk of losing her Israeli residency card and will not be able to return to see her family. For now, the couple has agreed to set aside this impossible choice and instead focus on finding a destination for their honeymoon—they are avid travelers with an insatiable appetite for discovering new places and cultures.
And, according to Bashar, they will avoid the pitfalls that can often befall matches made in politics: “Renan and I don’t really talk politics much. We aren’t heavily political people. We are just grateful to OneVoice for giving us the opportunity to meet and believe that its work will give our children a better future.”
Bashar will join his Israeli counterpart, Tomer Avital, in leading an International Education Program tour of Northern California communities and college campuses from March 9 – 16.