A large Lakeland family has been split in two temporarily by complex Israeli travel restrictions that forced the mother to leave seven of her children behind when they attempted to fly home.
On Aug. 18, Wedad Yacoub and 10 of her children -- all U.S. citizens -- were returning from a family visit in the West Bank through Tel Aviv, the same airport through which they had arrived more than two months before.
Israeli officials initially tried to block the family from leaving, saying they had to go through Jordan, a travel restriction that applies to Palestinian residents of the West Bank. Officials finally permitted Wedad Yacoub and her three youngest children to fly home, but the other seven children are still in the West Bank, two weeks later with no resolution in sight.
"I can't believe that children who were born in Lakeland could have their American citizenship ignored by a country so friendly to the U.S," said Wedad.
Even Israeli officials couldn't readily explain it.
"American citizens born in America can't leave through Tel Aviv, where they came in?" asked Daniel Seaman, director of the Government Press Office in Israel. "This has to be inaccurate. This can't be."
Seaman says it will take some research to know what happened, which is what he, other Israeli officials, U.S. State Department officials and Florida congressmen are doing.
"We've called the State Department and we want to solve this, but we don't have answers yet," said Keith Rupp, a spokesman for Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Bartow.
The journey began normally enough on June 4 when Wedad Yacoub and her 10 children entered Israel through Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, as they have done every summer for the past five years. After attending family weddings and visiting with family in the West Bank, she and the children returned on Aug. 18 to fly out of Tel Aviv.
But, to their surprise, they were stopped by Israeli security officers who said they had to exit through Jordan because of their father's Palestinian heritage. Steve Yacoub, 54, was born in the West Bank, but moved to the United States 30 years ago. He became a citizen shortly after.
"Our father's heritage can't erase that we're American citizens, born and raised in Lakeland, Fla.," 18-year old Ramy Yacoub says he told Israeli police. (MORE)