17 April 2011

Narratives Behind Locked Doors (6)


Family Visits Denied - the Mother of a Prisoner from Gaza tells her Story

Reham Afahna sits on a mattress on the ground of her living room in the Tel el Zaatar area of Jabaliya Refugee Camp. A child is screaming next door and a constant banging noise disrupts her as she tells PCHR about her son Taha, 29, who was arrested in October 2001. "That noise is the landlord removing the metal stairs that leads to our house. We have not been able to pay the rent and he is trying to kick us out," she explains.

"Five of my children are disabled; they have physical disabilities and speech impediments," the mother of ten says. "Taha, who was 19 when he was arrested, was always very kindhearted with his siblings. He helped them and washed them, he was always helpful around the house. One year before his arrest, he left school and looked for work in order to support the family. He suffered because of the conditions at home and because he saw how difficult things were for his siblings. On 15 October 2001, he tried to stab a soldier at Beit Hanoun (Erez) checkpoint [at the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel]. He was not politically affiliated. He was sentenced to ten years of imprisonment.

"During the investigation, no one was allowed to visit Taha for six or seven months," his mother recalls. "Then I was allowed to visit him, but only me alone, his father was prohibited. I visited him every 15 days, but sometimes I was denied access via Beit Hanoun (Erez). One time they denied me access for three months. It is a very difficult feeling, I lost my son who used to help me. Imagine you are in my place, imagine someone helps you and then they are gone."

Ms. Afahna describes the procedures she had to undergo when trying to see her son: "I used to leave my home at 4 in the morning and return home between 8:30 and 10 at night. We spent two to three hours inside Beit Hanoun (Erez) crossing, where we had to step into a machine and raise our hands. At the prison, we had to wait another two to three hours before being allowed to enter. The first group entered at 3 in the afternoon. We underwent a search before entering the prison. If a woman was suspected, she was forced to take off all of her clothes. They did not allow me to bring any food for my son, but every three to four months they allowed me to bring some clothes. But then they would take away his old clothes when I brought new ones."

"I couldn’t touch him there was always a glass barrier and we spoke through a telephone. And, of course, the Israeli soldiers were present. I was only allowed to see him for 30 minutes. This was in Beer Sheva prison, one of several prisons Taha was held in. Now he is in Nafha prison but I have not visited him there because of the suspension of the visitation programme. Even before that, his father and siblings were denied visitation, we were not given any reasons."

The last letter the family received from Taha arrived eight months ago. "We write to him, but we are not sure whether the letters arrive or not. When I saw him, Taha used to say he was fine, but when he was sick they would only give him paracetamol, for any illness. We receive 1000 Shekel per month from the Ministry of Prisoners, we send the money to Taha. Because he is unmarried, he only gets 1000 Shekels."

The family's home was demolished in 2006, so for the past several years they have rented a flat. Ms. Afahna says: "Now we are facing eviction from this rented flat because we have been unable to pay her rent and utility bill. There are no houses in all of Jabaliya. I have five disabled children, I don't know where to go – someone needs to help us."

Source: Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), 17 April 2011

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