Family of Bedouin Who Entered Gaza Two Weeks Ago: No Official Has Contacted Us

No official has been in touch with the family to provide information, advice or encouragement since Jumaa Abu Najima crossed into Gaza on July 12. 'The relevant figures are in touch with the family,' PM's Office says.

Looking into Gaza from the Kerem Shalom border crossing, February 2016.
Ilan Assayag

Two weeks after a Bedouin resident of the Negev crossed the border fence into the Gaza Strip, the prime minister’s coordinator for prisoners of war and missing persons has not yet contacted the family, according to relatives who told Haaretz about the circumstances of Jumaa Abu Najima’s disappearance.

Jumaa’s brother Salem said no official has been in touch with the family to provide information, advice or encouragement since Jumaa crossed into Gaza on July 12. The only contact the family has had with authorities since then is to be questioned and have their homes searched by the Shin Bet security service, family members said.

Abu Najima’s family lives in the village of Kafr Hasham Zana near Nevatim in the northern Negev. According to the father, Ibrahim, Jumaa has 12 siblings from his mother, Jamila, and another 12 from Ibrahim’s second wife, Nura.

In spring and summer the family takes their herd of 150 sheep to pasture near Kibbutz Be’eri. “Instead of buying them straw to eat, we rent an area from the Jewish National Fund, in coordination with the army and the sheep eat the weeds growing there,” Ibrahim said.

About two weeks ago, before Jumaa crossed the border, he had gone to help his brother Sleiman and his father’s second wife Nura take the sheep to pasture.

“We have a tent there and he really was there on the first day. The next day he went out with the sheep; he left his cellphone in the tent and he didn’t come back,” Salem said.

“Nura called Sleiman and told him that Jumaa didn’t come back and then we called the Bedouin officer we’re in touch with and he told Sleiman, ‘Yes, he crossed the fence about an hour ago,'" Salem said.

Sleiman said that the army then sent personnel to Nura and Sleiman’s tent to report that Jumaa had crossed the fence. Since then the army has not been in touch with the family, he added.

Ibrahim said his son’s social and psychological condition had been deteriorating over the past year. He left school and hardly had any friends. He worked at odd jobs for relatives and when he didn’t work he wandered “from one house to another,” the father said. He added that two years ago, when Jumaa was 16, they took him for “spiritual treatments” to clerics and sheikhs. A sheikh in the north recommended that they take Jumaa to a psychologist, he said, but they did not do so.

Ibrahim, 73, needs help to walk even a few steps. He spends most of his time laying on a mattress in his home. Next to him is a bag with hundreds of pills; he has to take pills almost every hour. “Once a month I go to the pharmacy, fill up the bag and bring it back here, until it’s empty,” he said.

The family said that for the past two weeks they have been questioned many times by the Shin Bet security service and that on Tuesday the Shin Bet searched their home. Ibrahim says he was questioned only once, for two hours, but his two wives were questioned three times for many hours.

“They are checking whether we had anything to do with the fact that he crossed into Gaza. He didn’t tell anybody. We wouldn’t have let him if we had known,” the father said.

In fact, except for the army’s statement that Jumaa had crossed into Gaza, and a statement delivered by Deputy Minister Ayoub Kara when he came to the village two days afterward and met with the family, there has been no contact between the family and the authorities except for the Shin Bet’s searches and questioning.

According to police, such contacts are the army’s responsibility. The IDF spokesman’s office says the matter is political and therefore questions should be directed to the Prime Minister’s Office. A statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said: “The relevant figures are in touch with the family.” The PMO refused Haaretz’s request to identify these figures.

“No one has spoken to us, no one has approached us,” said another brother, Khaled.