‘My mother’s sick in Gaza, but I can’t visit her’

Free passage between Gaza, Israel and the West Bank is a difficult prospect for both Palestinians and Israelis.

IDF soldiers near Gaza border 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Amir Cohen)
IDF soldiers near Gaza border 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Amir Cohen)

Yusef Nijem, a 53-year-old Gaza-born Israeli Arab now living in Jaffa, has found crossing into Gaza a nearly-impossible feat. Nijem has not been able to return to Gaza in six years, but has renewed his efforts to enter the coastal strip so he can visit his sick mother.

This is not the first time that Nijem has faced resistance in his attempts to visit an ill parent. Shortly after Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, Nijem’s father fell ill and died, but because of the blockade, Nijem was unable to attend his father’s funeral.
“It was very hard. Very hard. My father got angry, he took it really badly that his father had died and he couldn’t even go to his funeral,” said Nijem’s daughter, Zkiye.
Nijem and his daughter turned to Gisha, an organization that works to ease freedom of movement in and out of Gaza.
“He can get this permit only if he is requesting to visit a first degree relative who is pretty sick, and only, mostly, only in these cases,” said Nijem’s Gisha caseworker Shadi Bathish.
Though Nijem eventually received a three-day permit to visit his mother, his daughter and her children could not go with him since they are not eligible to apply for a permit.
“I want to go there. I want my children to meet my family, and everyone wants this,” said Zkiye. “They are always asking me ‘Mommy, why can’t we go?’ and there’s nothing I can say to them.”
It isn’t only people like Nijem who wish to visit relatives that have suffered as a result of the the heavy restrictions on passage in and out of Gaza. Students from Gaza that wish to study in the West Bank are also restricted from doing so.
“Soccer players, football players, are allowed to travel between Gaza and the West Bank, but students are not. We think an education is probably just as important as football,” said Gisha’s Executive Director, Sari Bashi.

“That’s not about security, that’s a political decision that we think is not only detrimental to the human rights of people trying to travel for good reasons, it’s also not really good for Israel because a healthy society is part of a better future.”

An official at the Prime Minister’s Office responded to Bashi’s remarks, sayingthat it is unfair to compare the circumstances of football players and students, because students from Gaza would number in the thousands - far outnumbering the 18 football players that need to move between borders. It is because of the vast numbers that giving a blanket approval to students would be detrimental to Israel’s security, said the official, blaming Hamas for putting their own extremist agenda above the needs of their people.

Nijem dreams of a time when Israel will not have to worry as much about security issues in Gaza and that people will be able to move freely.

“I’m a person who loves peace and quiet. Those are the most important things. That everyone should be together and united.”