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28 Jan, 2009 06:49

Israeli mother: ‘I want my Palestinian kids back!’

The recent fighting in Gaza tore many families apart, but for one mother it offered the hope of being reunited with her three children who were left behind in the war-torn Gaza Strip.

Galit Popik is originally from Belarus but immigrated to Israel 13 years ago. Her life then changed again when she married Rami Al-Quedra. He was a Muslim, so she converted to Islam and went to live in Gaza.

“I converted to Islam not because I wanted to but because I had no choice,”
Galit says.

The love affair faded, and in desperation Galit escaped with three of her six children and went to live with her mother in Israel. She says she wouldn’t have been able to escape if she took all her children with her.

“I told my husband’s father that I wanted to go home, but he said I can’t go: ‘If you go leave the children – they are not yours’. I had to go, there was no other choice. I wouldn’t have left three of my children there,” Galit says.

Not a day passes, Galit says, when she’s not thinking about the children she left behind in Gaza. She believes the only way she’ll ever see them again is if the Israeli army re-enters Gaza and brings them out.

No one in Gaza, however, wants Israeli soldiers back, as the devastation of the last war is still evident and families are still mourning the death of loved ones – many of whom were innocent bystanders.

One of those bystanders was Galit’s husband, Rami. He was neither Hamas nor Fatah, yet he was killed by an Israeli shell while standing in front of his house. His father says he’ll never give the children back to Galit because they’re the only memory he has of his dead son.

“When my son told me he was marrying a Jewish girl, I asked him if she would make him happy. He said yes, and so I said it was okay with me. But now I’m afraid if I give Galit her children back, she will change their religion from Islam to Judaism and their nationalities from Palestinian to Israeli,” Galit’s father-in-law Mahmoud Al-Quedra says.

Galit fled Gaza when her twins were only 27 days old. They’re too young to remember their mother but nine-year-old Jasmine cries for her each night. No one can answer her question as to why her mother abandoned them.

“We don’t know why she left. How could she forget all those years? How could she forget that she is a Muslim? I don’t understand how a woman can abandon her children,” Mahmoud Al-Quedra says.

Galit is unconvinced:

“They could have killed me, but I escaped. Their rules are cruel,” Galit says.

Galit has now put her faith in the Israeli courts but they say there’s nothing they can do. Perhaps the only choice she now has is to wait for what most people there say is the next inevitable round of fighting.