Amira Hass / In Gaza, only the dying get to see their Israeli relatives
25-year-old Qassem, an Israeli medical student, hasn't been allowed to visit his father in Gaza in 7 years.
Qassem al-Masri's father has been suffering from liver problems for years. Sometimes he is hospitalized, and usually he doesn't feel well (but then again, no one ever feels well in the Gaza Strip). But his condition is not grave. That is why Israel won't let his 25-year-old son Qassem, an Israeli citizen and a medical student, to visit him in Beit Hanoun.
It has been seven years since they've seen each other. Even when he left for Berlin for his medical studies in 2002, Israeli authorities forbade the young man from visiting his father in Gaza. (Three of Kassem's brothers live in Berlin, two of them are already doctors. Their parents decided to forgo building a house in order to provide their children with an education: medicine for the boys and law for the girls).
Three weeks ago, Qassem came to Israel, in the unfulfilled hope that this time he would be allowed to visit his father. He flew back to Berlin last week. The father and son, who were within 30 kilometers of each other, could have no more than a telephone conversation.
The Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson's Office told Haaretz that the authorities had studied Qassem's request, and found that it "failed to meet the criteria to grant entry into Gaza."
Qassem's parents are members of the same extended family, which was separated against its will in 1948. Qassem's mother is from the Israeli town of Lod, and his father, from Beit Hanoun in Gaza. The couple met during the 1970s, several years after Israel occupied the Gaza Strip.
There are currently thousands of "mixed" Palestinian families, with one partner an Israeli citizen and the other a resident of the territories. After January 1991, when Israel introduced the permits regime and imposed limitations on the movement of Palestinians, and especially after May 1994, when Israel banned entry of Israelis into Gaza, the lives of these families became more and more complicated. Every entry and exit was accompanied by an exhausting bureaucratic process. Following the intifada, the regulations were stiffened further.
The Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration (CLA in a letter to "HaMoked" - the (Israeli) Centre for the Defense of the Individual listed the criteria for entry into Gaza as follows:
An Israeli citizen who is married to a Gaza resident, as well as an escort of first degree relation (the couple's children under the age of 18) may enter the Gaza Strip.
In unusual cases, Israeli citizens may enter in the case of a wedding, engagement, severe illness or funeral of a first degree relative.
A dark joke making its way around Gaza is "unfortunately I'm not dying ? my son can't visit me."
Each entry request is examined by the head of the CLA and his recommendation is submitted for the final authorization of the head of the IDF Southern Command, the only individual with the authority to grant entry to Israelis. A source within the defense establishment, who preferred to remain anonymous, told Haaretz that the decision is not that of those two senior officials, but rather a matter of government policy.
Qassem can rest assured. According to the source, the government policy in question was supported by the High Court of Justice and the attorney general's offices, which study the criteria from time to time and continually approve them.