By Greg Moses
With the joyful news of an Ibrahim family reunion tonight–as father Salaheddin returns home from his lockup in Haskell–we remember two other families of Palestinian heritage whose lives were trashed by hardline immigration enforcement.
First we remember the Suleiman family whose deportation to Jordan has exiled twin citizens of the USA age four.
“They definitely would like to come back,” says Riad Hamad of the Palestine Children’s Welfare Fund, who purchased the plane tickets that allowed the family to leave at their own expense.
“They didn’t want to leave the country, but they did want to live, and that’s why they left,” explained Hamad over the phone Friday afternoon. The 61-year-old father of the family, Adel, was receiving such inhumane treatment in Oklahoma jails that he feared for his life.
Adel was born into a Palestinian refugee camp during the 1948 displacement of the Palestinian people, then in 1967 he was driven from the West Bank by war. And in 1991 he fled Kuwait when the first Gulf War hit there. Now he waits for his furniture to catch up to him in Amman, Jordan after being thrown out of the USA.
In Dallas, Adel and his spouse had their future before them.
“They had just purchased their first house,” says Hamad. “They put down $20,000.” Now the furniture from that house is all they have. Hamad will have the furniture shipped to them next week.
“This is a disaster for them,” says Hamad. “The furniture will provide a sense of continuity.”
Are they interested in returning to the USA?
“Yes they are,” says Hamad quickly. “It’s not like they wanted to leave the country.”
A relative who saw Adel at the Dallas airport on Jan. 29 as he was being deported with his exiled daughters said he looked like a famine picture.
The pre-dawn operation that uprooted Adel from his American dream was called “Return to Sender.” But who sent Adel to America? And why should he not be invited to return with profound apologies from even the President himself?
Hamad remembers trying to cheer up 17-year-old Ayman Suleiman, who was worried what would happen to his education.
“I told him I have paid tuition for 20 Palestinian students to complete college and I would pay for his too,” says Hamad. “When Ayman heard me promise him an education, he dropped his head down for a minute or so to hide his tears.”
“Get to Jordan, I told him. Find a high school and tell me about your college plans.”
When Immigration and Customs Enforcement abruptly notified Hazahza family relatives Wednesday night that a mother and son would be release from the T. Don Hutto prison, Hamad was called to pick them up.
Hamad knew the mother, Juma, because he had brought her favorite food to prison–Zaazatr. From the prison authorities she requested a tomato, “but she didn’t see a tomato in three months.”
As Hamad drove Juma and her 11-year-old son, Mohammad, from the Hutto prison he heard the boy ask, “Mama am I dreaming?” First thing he asked for was a hamburger.
Juma and Mohammad were last reported resting at the home of a relative in Dallas after a long night of driving made necessary because airlines would not issue them tickets since they lacked proper identification upon release.
The rest of the Hazahza family sits at the prison in Haskell–father Radi and four adult children: 18-year-old Ahmad, 19-year-old Suzan, and 23-year-olds Mirvat and Hisham. They are the ones to free next.
As for the Ibrahim children who tonight will see their father for the first time since early November, Hamad remembers the first time he saw them.
“I saw those children behind bars and I was not allowed to touch them,” he said.
“Even if I was a donkey with no feelings, I would hear this story and be moved.
As a child in Beirut more than forty years ago, Riad Hamad would look out the window at camps filled with white tents.
“What are those tents, Daddy?”
“Those are the Palestinians, Riad. They are waiting to return home.”
Note: to see daily videos from Palestine via laptops that Hamad has donated, visit marhabafrompalestine.com