By COLlive reporter
Thirty years ago, an Israeli Jewish teen named Rina (name changed for security) met a Palestinian Muslim man and soon thereafter gave birth to his child. When their baby boy was about 6 months old, the Arab boyfriend snatched the baby and crossed the border into Gaza.
Rina has not seen him again. For 3 decades, she has been heartbroken with a giant void in her heart. She kept wondering what had become of her child and wished to be reunited again.
The impossible happened last week when her son Muhammad, now a man of 30, took initiative to cross the Gazan border. Exercising his legal rights under Israel’s Law of Return, which offers every Jew the right to come and live in the Holy Land, he became a bona fide Israeli citizen.
This unlikely development began two and a half years ago when Rina contacted Yad L’Achim, a non-profit organization whose mission is Jewish continuity. Its flagship Special Projects department is known to locate Jewish women and children trapped against their will in Arab villages. The organization rescues them from captivity and guides their positive reintegration into Israeli society.
In many cases, rescue operations are conducted in top secrecy with the awareness that the lives of the women, their children, and the operatives are at stake. Since its inception, Yad L’Achim has rescued thousands of Jewish women and children from life-threatening situations and reunited many long-lost families in Israel.
Rina was determined that the time had come to find her long-lost child and appealed to Yad L’Achim with a heartfelt request to help find her son.
“She didn’t believe it would ever happen. She didn’t believe it could happen,” relates Yad L’Achim Special Projects Director Yossi Eliav. “It was her neighbors who urged her to contact us, but the moment we received the call, we resolved to do everything in our power to find this boy—now a man.”
Clandestine inquiries and exhaustive research finally revealed that Muhammad, who was already in his late 20s, had grown up as a Muslim in the northern part of the Strip. With great effort, they obtained his cell-phone number and relayed the information to the incredulous mother.
“The very first time she called and told me, ‘I’m your mother,’ I nearly dropped the phone,” relates Muhammad who, like his mother, cannot have his full name disclosed or image of himself publicized because of a fear of retaliation.
He said, “I barely spoke a word of Hebrew at the time, and I was so shocked that I was speechless. I asked my uncle to speak to her and verify the facts. Two-and-a-half years later, with tremendous support from Yad L’Achim, I’d learned Hebrew, and we were speaking daily.”
Once the initial shock of the disclosure wore off, the mother and son began developing a warm relationship. Supported and guided by Yad L’Achim, Rina felt prepared to do the impossible—to bring her son from Gaza back to Israel proper where he would have more prospects and the opportunity to meet his extended family and discover his Jewish roots.
“I can’t describe the feeling,” expresses Rina, still overcome with emotion from last week’s reunification. “I can’t believe that this day has really come after thirty years of heartache and endless waiting.”
For the first time since infancy, Muhammad is living with his mother and discovering life on the other side of the fence. His Hebrew is improving daily, and he already has a job lined up, Eliav told COLlive.com.
“I have many friends who envy the fact that I’m living in Israel,” Muhammad says. “Here in Israel, people respect each other; they value life. Here, there are jobs and opportunities. Gaza is one giant jail.”
“I’m so happy,” expresses Rina. “I want him to work and marry here. I want to be a mother all over again.”
VIDEO: Interview with Rina and Muhammad leaving Gaza