Following the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon in late May, Palestinians on both sides of the border were quick to grab the historic opportunity for family reunions across the makeshift border fence. The air was filled with joy, yearning and despair as thousands of Palestinian refugees from camps in Lebanon were able - for the first time since 1967 or even 1948 - to touch their relatives living in Israel or in one of the West Bank refugee camps, exchange news and get a glimpse of the landscape of Palestine.

Anxious about media pictures and stories which remind the world hat Israel continues to deny the right of return to Palestinian refugees, Israel's army started to obstruct the Palestinian refugee reunions on 4 June by adding fences that prevented physical contact between the people arriving from both sides. Protest by Palestinians on the side, joined by Knesset member Issam Makhoul, resulted in violent clashes with Israeli soldiers on 5 June, and more troops arrived to take control of the area. Israeli Minister for Public Security Shlomo Ben Ami explained to journalists that "these concentrations of thousands of people may create a dangerous situation. We are trying to find an official solution and Knesset members should not turn every situation into a Stalingrad." (Ha’aretz, 6 June 2000). Pending such an official solution, Palestinian refugees are no longer able to embrace each other and glance at their homeland. The following montage includes excerpts from the press, reflections of those who visited the border, and photos.

Hands meeting over the wired Fence…When will the time of embracing be due…

Hey you Israeli soldier, talk to me.
What do you want?
How do you feel when relatives are crying over the fence?
I don't care…
I'm a Palestinian, from the land you are standing on…
I'm also from that land.
Why do you prevent those people from living together?
I only want peace.
And I only want to return and live in my country in
peace. Would you allow me to jump over the fence?
No, I have orders not to allow you.
But you said you want peace.
Yes, but if you jump I'm going to react harshly.
Will you kill me?
No, I don't kill.
But you are hiding behind your weapon.
This is my duty. I'm doing my military service.
Are you going to kill me if I jump? You say that you hate killing.
I'll put you in prison. Don't try it.
But you want to live in peace. Your peace cannot exist
except by preventing me from returning to my land?
Don't jump, don't try, I will prevent you.
You are talking violently now. I want to live with you
in peace inside Palestine.
If you enter, I can't live inside my country. And if you
try to jump I will prevent you.
I want peace, but you don't. Stop promoting such a lie.
How do you say that? Where do you want the Jewish
people to live?
With me, but not on my expense. Let me in.
No, never
.

The dialogue to the left took place between a Palestinian young man and an Israeli soldier over the wired fence separating the liberated village of Dharya and the Lebanese village of Jardoun annexed by the Israelis in 1948, separating families living inside the two villages. Flowing tears were interrupting conversations over the fence, which prevented the hand from meeting. This was its duty. People from both villages gathered to meet after waiting so long.

Palestinians from camps in Lebanon and from Palestine were also there. Parents of the collaborators came as well, begging their sons to return saying, "Please come back, no one is going to kill you. Your government will protect you. You will have a fair trial, and everyone will receive what he deserves inside his own country."

An iron wire separates between people, Arabs, Palestinians, and Lebanese dividing the one land into two. The road to the Lebanese
border requires strong feet. It is very steep and slippery, but we realized that to reach the border you don't really need young feet. The old people were also there. It only needs strong will, affection
and love, and a deep sense of belonging to that land. From the other side of the stolen land, you see the same waiting and the same emotions.

The Lebanese hills used to link villagers from both sides. An old lady arrived, leaning on thearms of two young men. She came from Palestine. Bending down to the earth with flowing tears, she took a handful of sand and threw it over her face, to feel, remember, and meet with it. She simply was living her own yearning and love. Lifting up her head with tears still flowing, she shouted as she discovered some of her relatives, but not those whom she had expected to see. Her brother passed away, as did her cousin, but his daughter was there with her young son. "I'm the last of the old generation dear aunt," she said.

The aunt asked about them one by one, never forgetting a single name. She was able to meet them now, but they were all gone. She cried again, cried from the meeting that was not complete, maybe cried from the wound that cut deep into her weak body of 90 years old that insisted on penetrating the wired fence. The road was rough. You could see that people were wearing their new clothes, fit for the occasion. It is a family visit flooded with love and prevention. From inside the one meter separating both sides, you can hear a flow of names flying through the air, "My name is so and so…, I'm looking for such and such person…do you know him?" Words were not directed towards a specific person, but only hoping for a positive reaction from the other side.

The only clue was the name of a father or grandfather to re-unite the families. "Are you the son of …your grandfather's name was….I'm your relative…whom did you marry…how many children do you have…"Talks about marriages and deaths were overshadowed by fixing dates. "Meet me tomorrow…meet me Friday after prayer, tell the others to come…" They never failed to come. News was flying so fast. Those absent suddenly appeared, and those present didn't want to leave. A girl and a boy arrived with their mother. They cried waiting for their grandfather. Nour, the little boy, kept asking for his grandfather. He knows him very well. His mother told him a lot about him. He knows him, but only needs to see him for the first time.The grandfather came at last, rushing, causing more tears to flow.

Imagination became reality, breathing and talking, but not allowed to survive. Nour went on crying, calling his grandfather until the Israeli soldier told him to shut up and keep away from the fence to allow the "legal" distance, maybe to protect the wire from the warmth of a meeting that might melt it into pieces, the meeting that they feared most. Not scared at all, Nour kept crying and coming nearer until he was able to touch his grandfather's hand. His grandfather said, "Don't cry my dear, Habibi Nour…don't come and wait for me in the hot sun. I will send a message for you to come and see me again. I promise." Nour's face shone to hear that promise. He left with his mother, shouting, "You see mother, he will send for me again. Don't forget, don't forget…" Nour continued to say. Hands and bodies were penetrating the fence, the thorns of the wire were piercing its teeth inside their hands, chest, even faces, tearing their clothes, but they did not mind as long as they could have one touch from an outstretched hand. Letters, addresses, and dates were flying everywhere.

Bottles of water, pieces from torn clothes, photos were exchanged across the fence, but tears were the master of the occasion. They couldn't cut the iron fence for sure, but they made it more flexible. They had been waiting all their lives to exchange such a long look, but how long will they wait to embrace each other?