Israel/Gaza: 23 years' solitary for a detainee's wife
Tahani is one of hundreds of Palestinian wives whose husbands are held in Israeli prisons. For the past 23 years, she has had to raise their six children alone. In June 2007, the Israeli authorities suspended all family visits; she is desperate to see him once again.
Tahani fears she will never see her husband again. They have lived apart for 23 years, after he was captured in Gaza by Israeli forces and later detained in Israel, leaving behind a pregnant wife and five children. The prison sentence he received will ensure that he remains behind bars for the rest of his life.
Tahani used to go and visit her husband twice a month, under the ICRC's family visits programme. But she says that since 2001 the Israeli authorities have allowed her only three visits, for security reasons. In June 2007 the authorities stopped them completely.
" I miss my husband terribly and I need him to take care of the family. I have only been allowed to talk to him once by telephone, " Tahani states, holding up a photo of him that was taken in prison 13 years ago. She explains that photos are normally taken every six months in prison and given to the families.
The only way to communicate directly with her detained husband is by Red Cross Messages – personal messages sent and delivered through the ICRC. The messages may contain only personal information and have to undergo censorship by the authorities.
Gesture of defiance
Even though the family visits have been suspended for almost a year, Tahani and some 1,100 other relatives of detainees from Gaza still sign up for them with the ICRC, a gesture of hope and defiance. The ICRC has continuously asked the authorities to allow a resumption, but this has repeatedly been turned down.
" On Mondays they are waiting in the prisons to see our faces on television or hear our voices on the radio, since they can't see us or talk to us in real life, " she explains.
Personal, not political
Tahani's most fervent wish is for her husband to be released from prison and come home to be reunited with the rest of the family. But for now all she can do is to repeat her demand for the visits to be resumed.
" This has nothing to do with politics. We just want to be able to see our relati ves, to meet them, to talk to them. If I am not allowed to visit him any more, we might not see each other for the rest of our lives, " she says.
Families of Palestinian detainees held in Israeli prisons get some financial support from the Palestinian authorities. This helps in a territory where living conditions are extremely hard for most families and essential services sometimes non-existent. But Tahani's difficulties are more than material: " My children have been raised without their father to guide them. Today they are all grown up, " she sighs.
However, she worries much more about the well-being of her husband. Detainees depend on visits from their families for basic items, such as clothes. But the psychological benefits from the visits are much greater.
" The visits are very important to the detainees, to let them see their families. My husband is just spending his time in prison waiting for us to come. I can only hope it will be soon, " she murmurs.