Fatma's wrinkled face reveals the sorrow of a mother who has not seen her daughter for eleven years. Fatma Khalil Mubarak (78) lives in Rafah, in the south of the Gaza Strip. Her daughter, Lamees Ahmad Mubarak (44), has been living in Hebron in the West Bank since she got married in 1988. The last time Fatma saw her daughter was in 2002. Since then, Lamees has been trying to visit her family in Gaza, but she has been denied access every time she applied for a visitor permit to travel via Beit Hanoun (“Erez”) crossing. Beit Hanoun crossing is the only access point for people from Gaza to travel to the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and/or Israel.
Fatma explains: "My daughter Lamees went to Hebron with her husband when she got married in the ‘80s. She used to visit me frequently, and I used to visit her as my health condition was much better and crossing to the West Bank was much easier. However, since the Second Intifada, we haven't seen much of her. The last time she came was in 2002, but she has never been able to come back again since."
Several attempts have been made by both Lamees and her family to reunite since 2002; however, Lamees' applications for a visitor permit to the Gaza Strip have always been met with refusal. "This year, we have applied twice so far, but in vain. The permit was refused again. We have not given up yet. I will keep applying for a permit to see my daughter until the day I die."
Fatma's urge to see her daughter gets stronger every day, especially due to her deteriorating medical condition as she suffers from heart disease and hepatitis. "I do not know why I'm deprived of seeing my daughter,” she adds. "She is my daughter and she only wants to come and visit me as I am very ill. Why is she always refused entry? She is not a threat to their security. She only wants to come so I can see her."
"We have tried everything. The last time we applied, we attached a copy of my medical report certified by the doctors to attest to how poor my condition is, but even that did not work. The Israeli authorities refused to give her a permit again. We all thought that it would work and that she would finally manage to come."
"The last time I went to visit Lamees in Hebron was seventeen years ago. Since I became very ill, it is hard for me to travel on my own. I do not even leave this house. I know that I might get a permit if I applied for one, due to my age and my medical condition, but what would I do with a permit when I cannot move and cannot go anywhere alone? My health condition does not allow me to. What if I died on the way? The Israeli authorities won't allow my children to accompany me to the West Bank."
Israel imposes a policy of territorial fragmentation on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The separation of the territories has had grave consequences on the fabric of society. It has influenced every aspect of the social life of Palestinian people. Fatma explains how the Israeli closure of the Gaza Strip has further prevented her and her family from fulfilling her role as a mother and a grandmother. "Lamees got very sick recently. I could not go to visit her or look after her. None of her family could either. She is there on her own. Her father became very ill before he died in 2008. He wanted to see her, so we applied for a visitor permit, but the permit was refused. He died without seeing her, and she could not attend his funeral. Now, I have seven grandchildren whom I do not know. Two of my granddaughters got married, and I could not attend either of their weddings."
The separation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank has made the simplest family occasions very difficult. According to Fatma, Lamees was hoping to attend the wedding of her nephew in Gaza, which was planned for after Ramadan, in order to celebrate the happy occasion with her family. "We were getting ready to receive her at the wedding and we were expecting her. We were disappointed to hear that her permit had been refused again. No matter how many times she is denied permission to come, I am always hopeful that she will get the permit the next time and that I will see my daughter again. I cannot get used to the refusals. I will keep asking for permits again and again."
Fatma recalls the days when Israeli restrictions on the movement of individual civilians via Beit Hanoun crossing were less strict: "In the past, when I applied for a permit, I would get it the next day. I would take a taxi from Gaza City to Hebron. We used to leave for Hebron in the morning and arrive before . It was only about an hour's drive. Nowadays, it's easier for me to see my daughter who lives in Norway than see my daughter who lives an hour away."
Palestinians in the Gaza Strip remain denied of their right to freedom of movement, and suffer greatly due to the restraints imposed upon travel via Beit Hanoun crossing. The restrictions were first imposed in 1994 and have become increasingly strict since the al-Aqsa Intifada. Eventually, the crossing was completely closed on 16 February 2006. Since then, Palestinians have been prevented from travelling via the crossing unless they fall under certain specific categories.
As a result, civilians in the Gaza Strip have been denied access to holy places in Jerusalem and Bethlehem to perform religious rituals. Students have been prevented from travelling to attend universities in the West Bank. Families are prevented from visiting their relatives in the West Bank and vice versa. Since the Hamas takeover in June 2007, the Israeli authorities have only permitted limited categories of individuals to travel via the crossing: patients in a critical state; international journalists; employees of international organisations;. These groups are allowed to travel via the crossing under limited circumstances, via complicated procedures, and are often subjected to degrading treatment.
The closure of the Gaza Strip, which Israel has imposed for six consecutive years, constitutes a form of collective punishment, in violation of international humanitarian law. As a consequence of the continued closure, travelling between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank has been rendered virtually impossible for Palestinians, and entire families are now separated. The forced separation of families is in violation, inter alia, of Article 16 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and Article 23 of the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which obliges States to protect the right to marry and found a family.
For more information please call PCHR office in Gaza, Gaza Strip, on +972 8 2824776 - 2825893
PCHR, 29 Omer El Mukhtar St., El Remal, PO Box 1328 Gaza, Gaza Strip. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, Webpagehttp://www.pchrgaza.org