Gaza detainees barred from family visits
23-06-2011 News Footage Ref. V-F-CR-F-01095-A
In June 2007, the Israeli authorities announced the suspension of family visits for Palestinians from Gaza who were being held in Israel. This decision, which was made a year after Palestinian armed groups captured the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, deprives both the detainees and their relatives of an essential lifeline, and cuts detainees off from the outside world.
In June 2007, the Israeli authorities announced the suspension of family visits for Palestinians from Gaza who were being held in Israel. This decision, which was made a year after Palestinian armed groups captured the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, deprives both the detainees and their relatives of an essential lifeline, and cuts detainees off from the outside world. In the past four years, over 700 families from Gaza have been prevented from seeing their detained relatives.
Under international humanitarian law, detainees held by Israel in relation to the armed conflict have a right to family visits. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) urges Israel, on humanitarian grounds, to lift the suspension of family visits for all detainees from Gaza.
The ICRC regards contacts between detainees and their families as a strictly humanitarian issue. The decision by the Israelis is of particular consequence for children, whose ties to their detained parents may become frayed or may even be severed. The ICRC has been facilitating family visits from the West Bank and Gaza for over 40 years, and has repeatedly called on the Israeli authorities to let the visits resume.
Relatives of the detainees - including mothers, wives and children - hold a weekly protest in front of the ICRC's office in Gaza. They hold photographs of their loved ones who are being held in Israeli places of detention; they hope that such demonstrations of solidarity will persuade the authorities to lift the suspension of the visits.
The ICRC also constantly reminds Hamas of its obligation, under international humanitarian law, to preserve Gilad Shalit's life, to treat him humanely and to allow him regular and unrestricted contact with his family.
The closure imposed by Israel on Gaza, following the take-over by Hamas in 2007, has drastically reduced Palestinian access to Israel. It has had an especially severe impact on Palestinians wishing to visit relatives held in Israeli prisons.
For more details on the ICRC's position with regard to Gilad Shalit's detention, please see the press release that will be published on the morning of Thursday 23 June, on www.icrc.org.
Najya Mesleh's life was forever changed eighteen years ago when, one night, Israeli soldiers stormed the house in which she was living and arrested her husband. This happened two weeks before their first wedding anniversary, when she was carrying their first child.
After her husband's arrest, she continued to live with his family until their home was destroyed during the war of 2008-09 in Gaza. Nowadays, she lives with her ailing elderly mother in a small house in Khan Younis in southern Gaza. Periodically, she visits her husband's family and meets her nieces.
Initially, for the first few years, Najya was allowed to touch her husband's fingers through the wire netting when she visited him. This meant a great deal to her. Then, the Israeli prison authorities decided to replace the wire netting with a thick glass barrier that made physical contact impossible. Citing security reasons they put a stop to her visits, some time before the total suspension in 2007. Najya wishes she could have a baby with her husband one day. She has decided to wait for him, in the hope that he will be released one day.
They had been married for less than a year when her husband was taken away, and she has not been alone with him since. Her pregnancy ended in a miscarriage brought on by the stressful circumstances she had to endure. She has lost perhaps the best years of her life while waiting for his return. She knows, with certainty, that she will not be able to give him a child and to enjoy motherhood. She has not been able to visit him four years now. Najya's husband was sentenced to 99 years in prison.
Jumana Abu Jazar is a beautiful little Palestinian girl with an angelic smile and deep dark eyes. Although she is only ten years old, she has already been through a lot. In 2000, when her mother was pregnant, her father was arrested by Israeli soldiers. Four months after Jumana's birth, her mother fell ill and died. Jumana passed into her uncle's care, but some years later, he was killed by the Israeli army in Rafah City.
Jumana lives with her ailing elderly grandmother now. She goes to school every day and dreams of becoming a doctor or a lawyer: a doctor because her mother died of kidney failure and she wants to help others with kidney disease; a lawyer so that she can defend the people who are in prison.
Jumana is growing up without a father whom she has seen only twice, the last time in 2006. She says, " I was six years old when I saw him for the last time. My father is in jail, my mother is dead, my grandfather is dead and my uncle Ayman was killed by Israeli soldiers. I am his only daughter. When my father is finally released, the first thing I will do is kiss him and ask him to take me to school like all the other children. He will share my joy when I go to receive my school certificate."
- Facts and Figures
The ICRC visits almost 8,000 Palestinians in Israeli places of detention.
- Over 700 of these detainees are from Gaza and they are denied visits from their relatives.
- Under international humanitarian law, Israel must allow Palestinian detainees to receive family visits when feasible.
- The ICRC has been facilitating contact between Palestinian detainees and their relatives from the West Bank and Gaza for over 40 years.
- In June 2007, the family visit programme for people from Gaza was suspended by the Israeli authorities.
- More than 30 relatives of detainees have died following the suspension of the visits without being able to bid farewell to their loved ones.
00:00 Views of Rafah City in south Gaza.
00:25 Jumana’s grandmother preparing a sandwich for her granddaughter.
00:39 Jumana speaks to a photograph of her father. Sound bite (Arabic): “Goodbye father, I am going to school, pray for me.”
00:44 Jumana and her friends walking to school.
00:49 Wide shot of Jumana’s school.
00:54 Jumana and the rest of the students clapping their hands in time, and then walking in line to their classrooms.
01:03 Teacher writing on the backboard; long shot of students sitting in the classroom.
01:08 Jumana writing in her notebook.
01:19 Jumana and her classmates answering the teacher’s questions.
01:25 Jumana and her grandmother leaving their house.
01:33 Jumana and her grandmother walking slowly down the street to the bus stop.
01:37 Jumana and her grandmother boarding the bus.
01:42 Doors of the bus closing.
01:45 Long shot of ICRC office in Gaza city, bus stops in front of the building.
01:54 Jumana, her grandmother and Najya getting off the bus and crossing the street.
02:06 ICRC logo. Zoom out from logo to Monday sit-in: families with posters of their detained relatives.
02: 19 Close shot of photograph of Palestinian detainee being held aloft by a woman during the sit-in.
02:25 Close shot of Palestinian women holding portraits of their detained relatives during the sit-in; Jumana's voice in the background: "My dear father, be patient, the chains will be broken. The chains will be broken.”
02:30 Close shot of Jumana's face.
02:35 Sound bite (Arabic – 11") - Jumana: “Where is my father? Where is my father? Where is my father? Where is the world, where is the world to hear me? I want to see my father. I want to live like all the other children.”
02:46 Wide shot of families of detainees at the ICRC office. They are holding photographs of their relatives.
02:51 At the ICRC office: Jumana chanting in support of Gazan detainees.
02:56 Close shot of Jumana holding a photograph of her father.
03:03 Jumana skipping rope; her cousin looks on.
03:16 Sound bite (Arabic – 28") - Jumana: “When Jimmy Carter came to Gaza, I met him and told him that my father was in prison, my mother passed away, my grandfather is dead, even my uncle Ayman, whom I used to call “papa,” was a martyr. I am my father's only daughter; I have no one but God and my father. And I asked him: "Can you wait for ten years to see your only daughter?" He said, "No! No!" and he cried.”
03:44 Sound bite (Arabic – 15") - Jumana’s grandmother: "Oh Ala'a! Where are you, my son? God, I miss you so much. Allah! Jumana asks me about you every day, my dear son. What can I say to you? I send my special greetings to you and all those who are behind bars."
03:59 Najya walking up a hill in Gaza.
04:04 Najya standing at the top of the hill and looking out to sea.
04:09 Wide shot of Najya walking by the sea in Gaza.
04:14 Najya sitting on a rock and looking out to sea.
04:18 Close shot of Najya entering her mother’s room with a breakfast tray. Her mother is sitting on the floor.
04:22 Close shot of breakfast tray with food. Najya and her mother eating breakfast and drinking tea.
04:31 Sound bite (Arabic) – Najya and her mother chatting.
04:36 Najya picks up a framed photograph of her husband and puts it inside a bag.
04:42 Najya comes out of her house. She closes the door.
04:48 Najya walking down the street to the bus stop.
04:54 Najya arrives at the bus stop and greets her friends. She waits for the bus.
05:04 The bus arrives and Najya gets on.
05:14 Inside the bus, Najya greets Jumana.
05:21 Najya talks to the other women on the bus
05:36Najya chanting at the Monday sit-in at the ICRC office. She holds the photograph of her husband. Sound bite (Arabic) - Najya: “The prison took a lot of time from me. The prison took a lot of time from me. I want to see my children. I want to see my children.” (Giving voice to the detainees)
05:49 Sound bite (Arabic – 32") - Najya: “Our suffering increased in 2003 with the addition of a pane of glass to the metal net that was already put between the detainees and the families. This created an emotional barrier between us and the detainees. Before, we were enjoying touching the hand or the fingers of our beloved. But we were prevented from this touch. A mother could kiss her son before. A little child could kiss his father.”
06:21 Sound bite (Arabic – 31") - Najya: "At this time of year, there are a lot of exams, I see a lot of children going to school… And I say to myself: I wish I had a boy or a girl to fill my time and be a mother. But I am deprived of all that and this hurts me a lot. 06:40 The first time I heard the story of Jumana whose father is a detainee, I was so overwhelmed that I cried."
06:52 Sound bite (Arabic – 29") – Najya: "When she started to talk to me, Jumana said that her father was a detainee, that her mother is dead, as well as her uncle and her grandfather who used to take care of her. I was thinking to myself: how can a child survive without a father, without a mother? I am a wife deprived of a husband and a woman deprived of a son. When I heard that, I hug that child." (See next shot)
07:21 Najya faints while holding Jumana in her arms during the sit-in at the ICRC office.
07:42 Juan Pedro Schaerer, head of the ICRC's delegation in Israel and the Occupied Territories (English – 33"): "Our position is rather clear. Israel has an obligation to allow family visits to the people they detain, coming from Gaza, so international humanitarian law is quite clear on that respect. When it comes to the families themselves, fathers, mothers or children have the right to be in touch with their relatives who are detained by Israeli security forces and it's neither acceptable to have elderly people who might pass away without having the possibility of seeing a last time their son detained."
08:16 Juan Pedro Schaerer, head of the ICRC's delegation in Israel and the Occupied Territories (English – 29"): "For Gilad Shalit, the situation is not acceptable either, according to international humanitarian law. He was detained over the last 5 years without having the possibility to be in touch with his family. He was never visited by the ICRC who was never in a position to verify his conditions of detention. We urgently request Hamas to allow him to have the possibility to exchange news with his family."
08:45 (Footage from the ICRC archives (from 1997 and 2004) until END) Close shot of family visit cards being filled in by ICRC staff.
08:51 An elderly couple take a card.
08:55 Elderly couple on a bus; on their way to the jail where their relative is detained.
08:59 Arrival of bus at checkpoint.
09:06 Passengers getting off the bus.
09:10 Soldier checking Palestinian IDs.
09:17 Relatives waiting outside the jail.
09:23 Family members kissing through the wire netting.
09:34 Relatives and detainees speaking to one another by phone, a pane of glass between them.
09:50 Prisoners on the phone (blurred faces).
09:53 Prisoner saying good-bye to his family after ending call.
For more information, please contact:
Hicham Hassan, ICRC Geneva, tel: + 41 79 53 69 257
Umar Phiri, ICRC Gaza, tel: +972 599 60 30 15
Cecilia Goin, ICRC Jerusalem, tel: +972 52 601 91 50
Nadia Dibsy, ICRC Jerusalem, tel: +972 52 601 91 48
Ran Goldstein, ICRC Tel Aviv, tel: +972 52 275 75 17