Father caught between Israel and Palestine

TWO WORLDS: Adel Hussein is considered a traitor by other Palestinians because his son is serving as a soldier in the Israeli army. And now Israel caught up with him

AP , RAMAT GAN, ISRAEL

Tue, Jan 27, 2004 - Page 6

Caught between two hostile worlds, a Palestinian father hopes his Israeli soldier son can help him find a home in one of them -- the Jewish state that rejects him as illegal and unwanted, and the Arab West Bank which considers him a traitor.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians are in Israel illegally, most of them looking for work, others joining their relatives. The line between Israel and the West Bank artificially divides many families.

From Israel's point of view, the illegals are a double threat -- some might be potential terrorists; but all, by the very fact that they are Arabs, contribute to upsetting the delicate demographic balance that keeps Israel a Jewish state.

So Israeli police regularly round up Palestinian "illegals" and deposit them on the other side of the West Bank line.

After three years of successful evasion, that happened to Adel Hussein on Friday.

While driving with two Israeli Arab friends to an engagement party, they were stopped by police, who asked to see their identity papers. Hussein had nothing to show them but a picture of his son in uniform and clippings of old newspaper articles explaining their unusual story.

The police were unmoved and handed him over to the army, and he was sent back to the West Bank.

But Hussein had nowhere to go. After three years of bloody Palestinian-Israeli violence, a Palestinian whose son serves in the Israeli army is considered a traitor in the West Bank and his life is in danger.

"I looked at the dark hills around me and I thought I am going to die, it is the end of my life," Hussein said.

Hussein, 52, dressed in a gray suit, stood fearfully on the West Bank side of an army roadblock Friday night, waiting for his son to rescue him. Besides his son, he had also called reporters and lawyers -- a TV camera recorded the emotional scene.

It showed Hussein, with curly gray hair and hawkish features, falling into his son's arms in tears of rage.

At one point he turned to the camera and directed an especially earthy Arabic curse at Israel. But his son, in uniform after two weeks with his unit in the Gaza Strip, grabbed his father's face and ordered him to be strong.

It all started more than two decades ago, when Hussein married Stella Peretz, an Israeli woman. Even then, the rare mixed couple was not welcome in Israel, so they moved to the West Bank town of Tulkarem.

They named their first-born son Mohammed, as do many Palestinian families.

Complications began in earnest when the couple divorced in 1999. Stella moved back to her home town of Dimona in southern Israel and took their son with her. Given the Israeli name of Yossi Peretz, he lived like any other teenager, and after high school, he was drafted into the Israeli army.

Meanwhile, Hussein was forced to flee his Tulkarem home after receiving death threats from masked Palestinian gunmen who accused him of collaborating with the Jews.

"As an Arab whose son is an Israeli soldier it is not acceptable to the Arabs -- like the Jews would not tolerate a Jew serving Palestine," Hussein said.

So Hussein chose the life of an illegal Palestinian resident in Israel, on the run.

"I moved from place to place, from friend to friend until they were tired of me. I would work a few days here, a few days there until they found I did not have a permit," Hussein said.

Hussein was to appear before the Israeli Supreme Court on Sunday, but his lawyers reached an agreement to let him stay for a month while they decide whether to grant him residency.

"I think the government has a double standard of morality," says Jacob Shaked, one of his lawyers. "They send his son to the army but they want to send him back to a place he could be murdered because his son is in uniform."

Israel has dealt with similar cases in the past. The parents of many soldiers who immigrated from the former Soviet Union are not Jewish and have no legal right to be in Israel, but the authorities usually grant them residency.

Hussein is relishing the month he has to live openly in Israel and he wants to spend every moment of it with his son.

"We used to meet like thieves, stealing moments to be together," Hussein said, describing his previous meetings with Mohammed that put both of them in danger.

"I want to sit with my son in a coffee shop like any normal father."

And he wants to be with him in Israel. "Israel has been a warm home for me," says Hussein despite his harsh treatment. "I have many friends here and nothing with the Palestinians," he said.

Sitting together at the lawyer's desk in a Tel Aviv suburb, they made a strange couple -- the young Israeli soldier who prefers the name Mohammed over Yossi, with his spiky gelled hair and his Palestinian father in his best suit and gold cufflinks.

Both wore wings on their chests. Mohammed's uniform displayed his silver combat wings, while Hussein has a small gold seagull broach.

"It's my dove of peace," he said. "These are my wings of hope."