Israel/the occupied territories: families of Palestinian detainees between hope and fear
Thousands of Palestinian families living in the West Bank have relatives in Israeli places of detention. It is difficult to maintain direct contact between detainees and their families, leading to suffering and to problems within the families. The Israeli authorities suspended family visits during the recent hunger strike by Palestinian detainees between March and May 2012, causing a great deal of anxiety and concern for detainees and families alike.
For the past 45 years, the ICRC has enabled Palestinians to visit family members in Israeli places of detention. The organization applies for permits and provides transport to and from the prisons. ICRC delegates also convey oral greetings and written Red Cross messages to help families stay in touch.
“My husband Wafi has spent several years in administrative detention but we have never been told why. I wish they would take him to court so we would know,” says Nazmieh.
Since her husband was detained, Nazmieh has been both mother and father to their six children. Her only son Oussama (21) has recently taken on more responsibilities around the house.
Visit to Wafi
Nazmieh and her two daughters are the only family members who have received permits to visit Wafi in prison. This morning at 7 a.m., they board the bus with another 150 Palestinians on their way to visit relatives in Israeli places of detention.
After extensive security checks and several hours on the road, they can finally see Wafi behind a glass barrier and talk to him by telephone. The visit lasts 45 minutes. “Each time my daughters see their father in prison, they cry. Every visit is very difficult psychologically,” says Nazmieh.
Younis Daragmeh from the ICRC helps Nazmieh, Bisan (16) and Ansam (10) at the Jalameh checkpoint between the West Bank and Israel. Every month, the ICRC helps 9,500 people to visit their relatives in Israeli places of detention.
Many family members are prohibited from visiting on security grounds. Males between the ages of 16 and 35 are only allowed to visit once every six months or once a year.
Back from the visit
Nazmieh is back from visiting her husband. Smiling, she tells that he was doing well and very happy to see her and his daughters.
During the short visits, Nazmieh brings her husband news from her other children, who are not allowed to visit him. She has three daughters of marrying age and doesn't know what to do about this. "I need my husband to be with us and to decide."
Yafa and her mother Abir
The father of Yafa (7) was recently on hunger strike for almost a month, along with 1,600 other Palestinian detainees. Her mother Abir and one of her sisters are prohibited from visiting him.
Normal life came to a halt for the family during the hunger strike. “I smoked an additional half a packet of cigarettes a day, I watched the news all night and I couldn’t eat,” says Abir.
The last time Yafa saw her father, in March 2012, she was able to hug him, which is usually not allowed. During the hunger strike, the ICRC visited her father in prison and kept the family informed about his condition.
Misme, Asma and Hasha
Misme, Asma (centre) and Hasha gathered in the West Bank town of Jenin to celebrate the end of the hunger strike. Ten years ago, Asma’s husband was sentenced to life imprisonment. She has not been allowed to see him since. “I hope the end of the hunger strike will mean they’ll let him out of solitary confinement, if nothing else.”
For Asma, detention is a daily topic; almost all her family members have been detained at some point. In 2002, Asma, her husband and their oldest son were all in prison at the same time. “All our other children were minors then, and the youngest was seven. It was extremely difficult. I was thinking about my children all the time.”
Huda and her grand daughter Iman
Balata camp, in the city of Nablus, is the biggest refugee camp in the West Bank. Huda is holding a picture of her detained son, the father of Iman (8). They have just come back from visiting him.
The round trip and the visit itself took 12 hours. “After each visit, I’m so exhausted I have to stay in bed for three or four days. It’s also very hard for Iman, because she has heart problems. Once she lost consciousness at the checkpoint,” says Huda.
Huda has nine sons, who were all detained at the same time during the first intifada. “I was devastated. I cried so much I couldn’t see clearly any more. All my time was spent visiting my sons in the different places of detention.”
Since 1988, the longest period Sanaa's husband has spent at home has been nine months. He has spent the rest of the time in custody. Sanaa impatiently waits to hear whether her husband will be freed or whether his administrative detention will be renewed. “I live in constant fear and hope. I have to be mentally prepared for him not coming home.” The uncertainty casts a shadow of fear and stress over the whole family.
Sanaa copes by talking to others who are in the same situation. “According to an Arabic saying, if you see other people’s disasters you feel your problem’s small in comparison.”