After a three-week struggle to leave the West Bank, six exhausted children of the Yacoub family in Lakeland were reunited with their parents and siblings during the wee hours Friday morning.
"Our main feeling is relief to be back," said Ibrahim Yacoub, 22.
Their ordeal in the Middle East began Aug. 18 when they returned with their mother and three young siblings to Tel Aviv, Israel, to fly home after spending the summer with relatives in Silwad, a small town in the West Bank. But after their luggage was checked, they were stopped by Israeli security officials and told they could not fly through Tel Aviv because their father, Steve Yacoub, an American citizen, had once held a Palestinian ID.
Israeli officials said this ID made the Lakeland-born children Palestinian, not American, in the eyes of Israel.
Their mother, Wedad, also a U.S. citizen, began crying and saying they were all Americans. As a partial concession, the security officers allowed her and her three youngest children to leave as U.S. citizens from Tel Aviv, but told her that her seven other children could not leave. They had to stay behind, obtain Palestinian IDs and leave through Jordan.
Since then negotiations involving officials from the United States and Israel have been ongoing.
On Friday, six of the Yacoub children arrived at their Lakeland home 48 hours after leaving the West Bank for the airport in Amman, Jordan.
"It would have taken much longer to get through the Israeli checkpoints to cross into Jordan but we got VIP treatment," said Ramy Yacoub, 18.
"It didn't hurt that our uncle, who escorted us, speaks Hebrew," said Jeanine, 16.
Ibrahim's twin, Danny, refused to get a Palestinian ID because of his U.S. citizenship. He stayed behind in the West Bank with relatives, intending to leave Tel Aviv eventually with his U.S. passport.
"We're hoping my brother will be treated like any other American when he does try to leave," Ibrahim said.