By Omnia Zoubi
As some of the travel restrictions imposed over the past months begin to be eased, questions and uncertainty around the future linger, along with concern for our loved ones and longing to see family and friends.
We suddenly all have a better sense of the importance of freedom of movement and what it feels like when it’s taken away. And in Gaza, like always, reality is unlike anywhere else in the world. The kinds of restrictions that those living elsewhere have been experiencing recently to curb the spread of the pandemic are all too familiar to Palestinians in Gaza, living under closure for so many years. The decisions to live near or visit loved ones are decisions that have been out of their hands for years, even during special occasions. The Israeli authorities decide for them.
This situation makes me think about H.S., a woman who lives in Gaza, and whose parents and siblings live in the West Bank. Four years ago, her family told her over the phone that her father had been admitted to the hospital and that his condition was serious. H.S. went immediately to submit an application for a permit to travel to the West Bank. A week passed, and then another. Her father’s condition grew worse.
Distressed, H.S. contacted Gisha to help her get the permit that would allow her to see her father, likely for the last time. When I looked through the documents she had submitted along with her permit application to make sure everything was in order, I noticed that a medical report attesting to her father’s condition was missing a signature from one of her father’s doctors. She had been waiting for two weeks, and no one at the Israeli army’s Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration (the CLA) had bothered to tell her that her application was not being processed because of a missing signature.
H.S.’s family sent her a new medical report that included the required signature. She refiled her permit application. A day passed, and then another. Her father was dying, she heard from her siblings. It felt like a competition between the ventilator that was keeping him alive and the CLA’s bureaucracy. Which would be more efficient?
Bureaucracy won. On a Tuesday night, her father passed away.
The next day, I contacted the CLA and told them that the nature of H.S.’s application to visit her ailing father had changed. It was now an application for a funeral. She needed to travel to the West Bank to mourn his death with the rest of her family. The CLA demanded supporting documents, including the father’s death certificate. Six hours later, a CLA official called to tell us, matter-of-factly, that H.S. was under a “security block” and therefore, would not receive a permit.
The following day, we filed an urgent petition to the court and a hearing was scheduled for later the same day. The court suggested that H.S. should be granted a permit to mourn with her family, and the state accepted. Her father was laid to rest as the court was deliberating.
H.S. arrived to Erez Crossing the next morning, Friday. No one else was at the crossing, there weren’t any lines. The permit lay waiting for her a few steps away from the waiting area where she had been asked to be seated, but she was kept at the crossing for four hours before being let through.
When she was finally let through, H.S. made the short car journey to the West Bank, where she met her brother, who had come from Spain and made it in time for the funeral, as well as her nieces and nephews from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Later, she told me she asked them all to describe his eyes before he closed them for the last time.
Omnia Zoubi is an intake coordinator at Gisha.