Thana
Herez is a 48-year old mother of six who lives in the Al Manshaiya area of Gaza
City. Her two sons, who are married now, live in the apartments adjacent to
hers. Thana’s husband, Nafez, is one of the longest-serving Palestinian
prisoners in Israeli jails. Affiliated with the Fatah movement, Nafez had been
ordered to report to the police station multiple times but refused to appear.
According to his wife, "One night the Israelis came to our house, we were
living the al-Rimal area back then. They came after midnight and searched every
corner of the house, the rooms, the kitchen, the cupboards, even inside the
flour. They did this for 2 hours, then they arrested Nafez. This was on 25
November 1985. When he was arrested, our oldest daughter was 7 years old, the
youngest only 1 month – now she is married and has children!"

 

For
six months, the family was unable to see Nafez Herez. It was not until the
trial began in Gaza City they could see him. "He received a life sentence
for allegedly killing Israelis. There was no possibility to appeal – the lawyer
told us it would be hopeless and we should just accept the sentence."
After the verdict, Thana was able to see her husband at Ashkelon prison on a
regular basis: "At the time, there were no movement restrictions and we
were able to visit every 15 days. The Red Cross organized trips to the prison
every month, but we could go in our own car every two weeks if we wanted. At
that time, everyone was allowed to visit, not just the closest family members:
friends, cousins, nephews, neighbors. The visits lasted half an hour. Usually
it was his mother, me and three children. On special occasions like the ‘Eid,
all six of the children were allowed to visit at once. The visits were very
nice. Back then, the children were always allowed to touch Nafez and play with
him."

 

In
1996, a new law was enforced by the Israeli Prison Service, so that only the
closest relatives of the prisoner could visit, often meaning the spouse, the
parents, as well as children and siblings under the age of 18. "Beginning
at that time, Nafez’s mother and I were still allowed to visit every two weeks,
but sometimes we were denied visits for ‘security reasons’. His father stopped
being able to visit 12 years ago, his mother 7 years ago. These security
reasons are fabricated – the parents are over 70 years old." Next to the
possible visitors, the items that were allowed to be given to the prisoners
were also subject to increasing restrictions over the years: "In the old
days, we were allowed to bring anything into the prison, food, drink, clothes,
anything. Since about 1998 or 1999, we have not been allowed to bring in
anything at all. If a prisoner wants to receive any clothes now, he has to
register his name with the prison administration. The administration then
specified what type of clothes or blankets would be allowed – even the color.
Nowadays, we deposit money in Nafez’s canteen account, but they treat prisoners
from Gaza especially badly, and sometimes the prisoner cannot access the money
that has been put in the account."

 

Thana
recalls that her husband has been moved to different prisons many times,
perhaps he has even been to every one of the Israeli prisons. The constant
change is not just straining on the prisoner himself, but also on his
relatives: "Two of my daughters did not want to make the long journey to a
far away prison anymore when they were 12 and 13. They always got very sick
from the bus ride, so for four years they did not visit their father. When I
made them come along again after 4 years, he did not recognize them. He asked
them ‘whose daughters are you?’ They were both very upset and cried. He only
realized when I joined them that they were his own children."

 

"In
the beginning, we saw my husband every two weeks, so it was not necessary to
write letters. Now we write letters – phone calls are not allowed – but they
take a long time to arrive. When someone proposed to one of my daughters, we
wrote to my husband to get his blessing. It took six months until we received a
response. We waited the whole time for his decision. Nafez was not even allowed
to call us for important occasions, neither sad nor happy. On the day of our
son’s wedding he was not allowed to make a phone call. Someone who was in
prison with him told us he had kept talking to himself all day: ‘Now my son is
getting prepared, now she is wearing the dress, now they are driving to the
party, …’ things like this. After that day, he spent three years in al-Ramle prison
hospital. He was so badly affected on a psychological level because he missed
his son’s wedding that he was sick for three years. On another occasion, when
Nafez’s brother died, the prison administration told him he would be able to
receive eight visitors. "But they did not tell us, his family. So when I
arrived alone to visit him, he was very surprised that I was all by myself. But
because it was a special visit, I was allowed to stay for one and a half hours
instead."

 

Nafez
was not able to write much about the conditions of his incarceration in his
letters, but his wife explains: "During his sixth or seventh year in
prison, there was a problem in the Nafha prison, so they put him in solitary
confinement for one year." In her opinion, the medical observation in
prison is not done for the sake of the prisoner. "They do these medical
check-ups not to help the person, but to know better how they can make them
suffer. For instance, Nafez had a problem with his hand and he had gotten surgery
on it. After the medical check they targeted his hand specifically, to inflict
additional pain by beating his hand."

 

Having to raise six children without a father was often taxing for
Thana Herez, but she is proud that she did it all on her own. "Thank god I
was able to raise them well even though I was alone. Two of my girls went to
university, one for English, the other for Social Work. All of my children are
married now, and I have 21 grandchildren." With the financial support of
Nafez’s family and different organizations, the single mother was able to
support her children. "All the children have their own lives now and can
take care of themselves. I have raised my children, now all I hope for is that
my husband will be released soon. I was 24 when he was arrested, now I am 49. I
pray all the time that they will release him."

 

 

Photo Caption: Thana Herez holding a picture of her husband Nafez,
one of the longest-serving Palestinian prisoners in Israel. Next to her, her
grandson, who was named after his grandfather.