Saturday, January 16, 2021

So Near, So Far: B’Tselem and HaMoked Team up to shed light on mixed Gaza-West Bank families

March 24, 2014
Section: [Main News] [Culture] [Life under Occupation]
Tags: [women‘s rights] [freedom of movement]

Qalandia checkpoint is the main checkpoint barring Palestinians in Ramallah from reaching Jerusalem. 

In honor of international women’s day last week, Israeli human rights organizations B’Tselem and HaMoked teamed up to publish a report and accompanying series of comics entitled, So Near and So Far. The collaboration attempts to shine light on the lives of individuals who are separated from their families because of Israel’s policies of isolating the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.  

The project features the true stories of five Palestinian women who have found their families splintered by Israel’s restrictions on movement.  The inclusion of illustrations, also done by women, aims to appeal to a wider audience than the report alone.

“We hope that the comic strip format will help break down the barriers of language, distrust and fear,” B’Tselem stated in a press release. 

Inhibiting Palestinian Movement 

Between 1967 and the outbreak of the First Intifada in 1987, Palestinians were relatively free to move between the two locations.  However, along with the First Intifada came new Israeli policies that made such travel increasingly difficult.  What is more, since Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007, Israel has used border closures, physical fences, and bureaucratic policies to make it almost impossible to travel between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

These measures particularly affect women, who in Palestinian culture traditionally leave their family to live with their husband’s family when they get married.  Women who married men from the other section of occupied Palestinian territory before such restrictive policies were implemented now find themselves torn between their husband and children and their family back home.  In a statement released by researcher and author of the report Naama Baumgarten-Sharon, she explained thatwomen in mixed couples must go through life's major milestones without the support of their closest relatives. They experience pregnancy and birth, times of happiness and grief alone; their children grow up cut off from their maternal grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.”

Gaza to the West Bank

If someone moves to the West Bank from Gaza, they are required to permanently change the place of residence on their ID, a long and frustrating bureaucratic process. In 2009, a new policy was implemented that only allowed relocation from Gaza to the West Bank in extraordinary circumstances. 

If individuals are unable to legally change their address, the Israeli government considers them “illegal aliens.”  If discovered they are deported to Gaza permanently. According to B’Tselem, from 2002 to 2004 thirty-two Palestinians were deported from the West Bank back to Gaza.

One of the comics tells the story of Maysoun Al Haj, whose husband was forced out of work due to poor economic conditions in Gaza. When he received a permit to get a kidney stone removed in Israel, he managed to make it to Ramallah and open up a sewing shop, sending money back to his family every month.  He is not a legal resident of the West Bank, and could be sent back to Gaza at any time.  

As difficult as it is to move from Gaza to the West Bank, it is very easy to move in the opposite direction.  However, once someone moves he or she must deal with the essential inability for Gazan residents to leave the Gaza Strip due to the siege laid on the area by Israel since Hamas rose to power in 2007.

Permits that allow one-time temporary visits to either Gaza or the West Bank are issued by Israel in very rare cases, such as family deaths or the wedding of an immediate family member.  However, these permits are difficult to obtain and often do not arrive in time.  

In two of the comics, detailing the the stories of Asma Zaghlul and Najah Hamdan, the women were unable to return to Gaza in time to be with their dying parent, receiving their permit too late and arriving only in time to mourn their passing. These circumstances are true for far too many others. 

Gaza to Israel

Families that are from both Gaza and Israel face even more obstructive challenges. Those who migrate to Gaza from Israel for the purpose of family reunification have two options, neither of which is ideal.  They have the option of relocating to Gaza permanently or functioning as a “split family,” which enables them to live in Gaza for six-month periods before re-entering Israel and reapplying for another 6 month visit. In order to re-enter Gaza there are extensive bureaucratic applications that must be applied for in Israel.  

Permission can take weeks to come through, and oftentimes is rejectedThis means individuals are separated from their families for weeks at a time with no assurance that they will ever be reunited. 

Individuals from Gaza cannot relocate to Israel or East Jerusalem.

Moving Forward

By publishing these comics in Arabic, Hebrew, and English, B’Tselem and HaMoked hope to open up a conversation about issues in an approachable way, relating personal stories that echo true throughout the Palestinian population.  Further, taking these actions in the context of International Women’s Day draw attention to the unique struggles Palestinian women face due to Israel’s restrictive policies on movement. 

In a press release attached to the report, the two collaborating NGOs put out a joint call for Israel to respect allow for Palestinian freedom of movement and family reunification:

“HaMoked: Center of the Defence of the Individual and B’Tselem call upon Israel to respect the right of all Palestinian residents to family life and to freedom of movement, and to allow them to choose where to live. When one spouse is a resident of the West Bank, the couple must be allowed free movement – subject to individual security checks – between Gaza and the West Bank, which constitute a single territorial unit. Israel must also enable residents of Gaza who marry Israeli citizens or residents to live with their spouses, and enable residents of Gaza to maintain regular family ties with relatives in Israel, East Jerusalem and the West Bank.” 

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