When Nicole Hamdan, a Jewish Israeli citizen, failed to report for compulsory army service a couple years ago, the military police came knocking at the doors of her uncles in the Tel Aviv suburbs of Holon and . It is only possible to imagine the officers' surprise at learning the following: that Ms Hamdan was now living with her parents and three younger brothers and sister in a two-room house in Gaza – "Hamastan" in popular Israeli politician-speak; that she speaks Arabic as well as she speaks Hebrew; and that she dresses in the conservative ensemble of abaya and hijab favoured by most women in the territory.
The military closed the file on their lost recruit. For Nicole, 21, who also uses the name Yasmin these days, is the oldest daughter in one of the more unusual family units in the besieged territory of 1.5 million people – that of Imad Hamdan, a Palestinian from a refugee family in Gaza, and his wife, Dalia, the Israeli Jew who married 22 years ago after finishing her own army service.
Nicole's parents' life together would not have been easy in the best of circumstances. But for Imad, who speaks good Hebrew, and Dalia, a somewhat less-fluent Arabic speaker, their marriage has had to be particularly strong to withstand war, unemployment, poverty, family ostracism and cultural differences.
Luckily, it shows every sign of being just that. They met back in the late Eighties in what Imad, now 50, clearly regards as the good – and now unimaginably far-off – old days. That was a time before Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin signed the Oslo Accords, when Gaza's borders were porous and it was as easy for Israelis to go there as it was for Palestinians from, like Imad, to travel into Israel for work.
He was a construction contractor in Tel Aviv, and the pair were introduced by Imad's business partner and his wife, who had brought the young Jewish woman to a restaurant for dinner. Although she had grown up in the ethnically mixed city of , Imad's date for the evening came from a rightwing family. "She hated Arabs then," he says, joking. But the couple hit it off over the hamburgers and spent most of the night talking on the beach.
It was not long before the couple married, to the consternation of the Dalia's family. As permitted in Islam, Dalia was Imad's second wife – though his first subsequently died of cancer. For the first five years, with Imad working regularly in Israel, the couple nevertheless lived with Dalia's mother, which was not always easy.
"My mother used to tell him: 'I love you a lot but your problem is you're an Arab'," Dalia says. Imad agrees: "Every Jewish mother wants her daughter to marry a Jew."