Sitting in their large empty cinder
block living room in Jabaliya Refugee Camp, Omar Inshahsi and his wife, Umm
Abdallah, told PCHR about life with a family member in an Israeli jail. This
story is the story of thousands of Palestinian families who have to live
without a loved one, but the situation for approximately 700 families in the
Gaza Strip is exacerbated by the fact that Israel suspended the ICRC’s family
visitation programme for prisoners from the Gaza Strip in June 2007.
The Inshahsi family has 12 children,
six of them boys and six girls. Abdallah was the oldest son, he is now 35. He
was arrested at Beit Hanoun (Erez) crossing point on the 3 March 2001 – it was
a Saturday, as his father remembers. According to his father, he had been
involved with Islamic Jihad and had been arrested by the Palestinian Authority
for his involvement in the past. His parents had told him to stop, but he
continued his work with the organization in secret. After the arrest,
Abdallah’s family knew nothing about his whereabouts until October 2001, when
Israeli intelligence officers called Omar Inshahsi and told him to get a lawyer
for his son.
"The court wanted to sentence
Abdallah to 20 years imprisonment, for membership in Islamic Jihad and for
planning an attack on Israeli soldiers inside Israel." The family worked
with human rights organizations in Gaza that provided Abdallah with
free-of-charge legal support. "With the help of a Palestinian lawyer from
Yaffa, they were able to lower the sentence to 14 years." Abdallah is
scheduled to be released in 2014.
For the first six years of
Abdallah’s sentence, none of his relatives were allowed to visit him, or even
to send him clothes or other items he might need. When the family managed to
obtain a permit for visitation, it was only for his mother, who was allowed to
visit him every 45 days. "Later, we managed to get a permit for his little
sister to visit him along with his mother. After that we got a permit for all
family members to visit him, except me, his father," Mr. Inshahsi says.
"They say it is for security reasons, they don’t tell us why. Until today,
I have never visited my son in prison."
Abdallah’s mother explains what a
typical visitation day looked like: "When we wanted to visit Abdallah, we
had to leave the house here at 4 o’clock in the morning, we arrived at Beit
Hanoun (Erez) crossing at 7 in the morning, then we had to wait at Beit Hanoun
(Erez) for two hours. I had to step into a body-scanning device; if the device
beeps two times in a row, you are not allowed to enter Israel. We were subject
to a thorough search – in a separate room where we had to take off our
headscarf, our clothes and our underwear. There were cameras filming all of
this. Inside Beit Hanoun (Erez), there is a lot suffering. We were also not
allowed to bring any personal items through the checkpoint. If we had money,
glasses, or mobile phones, we were forced to leave those things at the
"When we arrived in the prison,
we were not allowed to enter before another search. We had to wait for another
two hours. Then, when I saw my son, there was no physical contact — he was
behind a glass barrier and we could only talk through a telephone. The phone often
did not work for 30 minutes, which only left 15 minutes for us to talk during
the visit. There was an Israeli soldier behind me and one behind him, so it was
impossible to talk about the conditions in the prison, or at home. We only said
normal things like ‘How are you? How are you doing? How are your brothers, your
sisters?’ I gave him news about the family. If I had food for my son, sometimes
they would allow me to bring it inside the prison, and sometimes they would
take it from me. Before they allowed food and other items in, they would let
dogs smell our bags."
Since June 2007, the ICRC’s prisoner
visitation programme has been suspended. No one in the family has seen Abdallah
since then. They have heard that he has stomach problems and is very weak. His
eyesight is deteriorating. "We will try to send him new glasses through
the ICRC," his father says. Every
Monday, the family sends a letter to the son through the Red Cross, but they
only receive letters from him every six months. The letters written to him
arrive, but usually late. "We got news that he sent us a letter with
photos, but it has not arrived until now." Abdallah’s father explained
that they also send money every month, usually between 500 and 600 Israeli
Shekels, but there have been problems: "Abdallah does not receive the
money directly, the prison administration only gives him the money every three
or four months. Once, a prisoner who was released visited us here in our home.
He asked us why we do not send money to Abdallah and that Abdallah did not
receive any money for four months. We went to the post office and saw that the
money had been received by the prison administration. We sent the receipts to
the prison administration, so they were forced to pay the money to Abdallah.
Another time, we sent money for four months, but the soldiers stole the money –
they didn’t give it back."
Asked how the absence of his son has
affected him personally, Omar Inshahsi tells a story of the last time he was in
touch with his son: "Once the prisoners had gotten hold of a mobile – I
received a phone call and answered it. Someone said ‘Hello, hello’ but I didn’t
know who it was. I did not recognize the voice of my own son. It was Abdallah,
but it took me five minutes to figure out who it was. When I finally realized
it, I was shocked. I threw the phone away, I couldn’t talk. For ten days after
that, I remained unable to imagine that it had been my son talking to me. That
is how estranged he has become."
Photo Caption: Abdallah Inshahsi’s mother holds a picture of
her son in their home in Jabaliya Refugee Camp.