The road to reunion: For these families this is all they have

13 November 2018

Once a month she wakes up long before dawn. On those nights she hardly falls asleep anyway, constantly going through an imaginary checklist inside her head: permit, ID, money. She knows what she has to take, what she has to do, but emotions take over and she always fears she may forget something. Forgetting would mean missing the visit. She would not forgive herself if this happened. Those forty-five minutes are precious. She longs for them and dreads them at the same time.

It is still dark when she arrives to the street where buses are waiting. Many familiar faces and a couple of new ones are in the crowd. Bus drivers pour steaming coffee into small paper cups, while passengers buy food. An exhausting twelve-hour trip is ahead of them: two back to back buses, one Palestinian, one Israeli, hours of waiting at the checkpoint, a rigorous search before entering the prison.

On the way, she repeats to herself all the things she has to remember to tell him on the phone through the glass separation: family news, neighbourhood gossip, how much they miss him. Then, there will be another month of waiting. The absence is a gaping hole she tries to fill with memories, old clothes, books, letters, photographs.

Every year, over 100,000 people from the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem take Red Cross buses to visit family members detained in Israel. Behind numbers there are people, and behind every person there is a story of what it means to live apart from someone you love.

Maintaining contact with family members is a fundamental humanitarian need and a right granted to detainees by International Humanitarian Law. For fifty years, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been organizing visits for families of Palestinian detainees held in Israeli detention facilities through its family visit program. We facilitate permits, organize transportation, and help detainees and their relatives exchange family news via Red Cross messages. The ICRC facilitated more than 3.5 million family visits since 1969.