Opinion |

Two Palestinian Sisters Kept Apart by Successive Israeli Prime Ministers

It took nearly 20 years for a woman from Gaza to be allowed to see her sister in Jaffa. That’s what happens when the Strip is run like a big prison

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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A Palestinian woman stands beneath a sign at the Israeli side of Erez crossing, on the border with Gaza, June 23, 2019.
A Palestinian woman stands beneath a sign at the Israeli side of Erez crossing, on the border with Gaza, June 23, 2019.Credit: Amir Cohen/Reuters
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

How far is it from Jaffa to Gaza? Nineteen years, three strokes, bureaucratic hassles and a petition to the district court.

Amina Abu Shkeyan, 64, lives in the Jabalya refugee camp. Amna, her 73-year-old sister, married an Israeli citizen decades ago and lives in Jaffa. The sisters haven’t seen each other since 2001, when their mother died and Amna got a permit to enter the Gaza Strip.

When all the fronts around Israel are heating up, it’s worth recalling once again the cold war it has been conducting for almost 30 years against Gaza’s population. The objective is political: to cut them off from the rest of the Palestinians who live between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Yitzhak Shamir, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Ariel Sharon are no longer among us to see this great accomplishment. Ehud Barak, Ehud Olmert and Benjamin Netanyahu may be hostile to one another, but share the obsession of maintaining the Strip as one big prison.

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You’ve succeeded. You’ve kept sisters like Amina and Amna from realizing their right to meet as they choose, and to see each other before Amna, who is ill, loses almost all her memory. She has other siblings in Gaza who are yearning to see her. Previous attempts to get them a permit to enter Israel failed. Bravo, honorable prime ministers.

It’s worth recalling that the process of imprisoning the Palestinians of Gaza began in 1991. Before the suicide attacks, before Hamas sought to imitate Hezbollah and before the Palestinian Authority was established and revealed in all its flaccidness. Israel and its prime ministers bear full responsibility for this victory, embodied in the armed young people devoid of any future and under the influence of drugs who breach the perimeter fence to their certain deaths.

True, we’ve backtracked somewhat from the surreal record set during Olmert’s time, when among other things Israel banned the entry of pasta and sanitary napkins into the Strip. But legions of generals, coordinators and clerks continue to enforce tough confinement regulations, as if they’d been handed down at Mount Sinai.

In this reality, with Israel serving as the warden and the PA its indolent servant, Amina’s July 10 request to leave Gaza bounced around for almost a month between the bureaucracies of the Israeli District Coordinating Office and the Palestinian Liaison Committee. The family couldn’t understand why there was no response. It asked the Gisha Legal Center for Freedom of Movement to intervene, and the NGO was told by the DCO that the request had been received but needed further checking.

Nothing moved, and on July 30 attorney Moria Friedman Sharir from Gisha wrote a pre-petition notice to the Be’er Sheva District Court. Then a response came that Amina’s exit request had been refused. Why? They didn’t say. Friedman Sharir filed the petition. At the same time the prosecution told her that on the day Amina’s request was submitted, the Palestinian committee was told that the documents it had submitted weren’t clear enough. Neither Gisha nor the family had been told previously that there was any problem with the documents the Palestinians had sent.

In court, the prosecution’s lawyer argued vehemently that the petition should be categorically dismissed, because the administrative procedures had not been completed; the DCO, he said, could not use the legible documents that Gisha had submitted on July 15 as part of its inquiry, because regulations require that they be submitted only by the Palestinian committee.

Judge Ariel Vago insisted that the hearing continue until a solution was found. This came in the form of a text messages to the DCO’s legal adviser, who was at the hearing, that the legible documents had arrived. The next day, August 8, Amina was able to go to her sister. She indulged her nieces and nephews with dishes that their mother had stopped preparing ever since she fell ill in 2007.

“Every family in Jaffa has relatives in Gaza,” Amna’s children say. They said that when their mother was hospitalized in July, the Palestinian Liaison Committee, the DCO’s lackey, requested several times that they send proof that their mother was in the hospital to support her sister’s request for an exit permit. “What do they want? Should we kill our mother so that her sister can see her?” they asked, echoing typical Gaza gallows humor.

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