23-06-2011 | Middle East

Gaza detainees barred from family visits

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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 23rd June, on www.icrc.org.

Video Story

NajyaMesleh'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.

JumanaAbuJazar 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."


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