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From the field

Under the guise of the permit system: Israel separates women living in Gaza from their families in the West Bank. The story of Dalal Mansur and her family

Dalal Mansur (60), a widowed mother of five, was born in Balata Refugee Camp near Nablus. In 1987, she married her cousin, Rateb al-Hilu, a resident of the Gaza Strip. For many years, Dalal has not been able to visit her family in the West Bank, including after her mother fell ill. In a testimony she gave B’Tselem field researcher Olfat al-Kurd, Dalal spoke about the difficulty of being separated from her family:

Dalal Mansur. Photo by Olfat al-Kurd, B’Tselem, 3 Dec. 2020

At first, after I got married, I visited my parents many times and didn’t have any problems. I would come to Nablus with my children, and we would stay for a long while each time. In 2000, the situation changed for the worse, and in 2007, it got even worse: getting a permit became a great torture. I applied for permits again and again. Some were denied, and others were only approved for one day. I would stay for two weeks because one day was never enough to make up for how much I missed them.

Dalal did not get to say goodbye to her father before he passed away in 2012, nor did she receive a permit to attend his funeral. Her mother is advanced in years and her health is failing. Dalal cannot bear the thought of never seeing her again. “When I talk with my mother,” Dalal says, “We both cry the whole time. I cry when she tells me, ‘come to me, I’ve missed you so much. I want to see you before I die.’” Dalal further recounted:

In 2013, I applied for an entry permit to visit my mother, who has a heart condition and diabetes and suffers from high blood pressure. Her eyesight has also started to deteriorate. She’s now 90 years old. My mother sent me a medical report that I attached to the permit application. I received a permit and went to Nablus with my son Yusef, who was 15 at the time. The permit was only valid for four days, but I stayed for about a month.

When I returned to Gaza, I submitted a few applications to visit my mother, but they were all denied. In 2017, I went to Nablus to accompany a relative who suffered from heart disease and needed to undergo surgery at Rafidia Hospital in Nablus. I was very happy, because it meant I could visit my mother and other relatives, whom I hadn’t seen for about four years, at the same time. The permit was valid for a week. I was elated.  

I returned to Gaza a week later. I haven’t seen my mother and my siblings since then. My family sent me my mother’s medical documents to apply for a permit to visit her, but all the applications I submitted were denied.

Dalal’s sister-in-law,

(53), is a mother of four from Balata Refugee Camp in Nablus District. In a testimony she gave B’Tselem, Tahani describes the family’s difficulty due to the forced separation Israel imposes on them. Tahani herself has two sisters who married Gazans and relocated there. She has not seen them for years.

Tahani Mansur. Photo by Olfat al-Kurd, B'Tselem

My mother-in-law, Dalal’s mother, is now 90 years old. She’s always crying and asking to see Dalal. She always tells me that she’s scared she’ll die without seeing her. My heart aches for her. They haven’t seen each other since 2017, and Dalal and my mother-in-law are terrified that something will happen to one of them before they can see each other.

I sympathize with them a lot and understand the hardship because I have two sisters, Sawsan and Tahrir, who married Gazans and started families there. In the past, they’d come to all family events, but since the second intifada broke out, and especially in the last 10 years, it’s been very hard for them to get a permit. Tahrir managed to visit us three years ago, but we haven’t seen Sawsan in 10 years.

Sawsan al-Hilu (57), a mother of 10, married a Gazan in 1988 and now lives in Jabalya Refugee Camp. She has not received a permit to visit her family since 2010. She was not able to say goodbye to her mother when her health began failing or attend her funeral when she died four years ago.

In 2010, I submitted several permit applications and, in the end, got a permit for a week. I was so excited I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t wait until morning to travel to the Erez Crossing. I missed my family so much! I went with my daughter, Raghad, who was only a year old. The reunion with my family was full of longing and crying. When I arrived, I found everyone waiting for me by the door. It was such a great joy for my family and me. I stayed with them for three weeks, which were the best days of my life, and wished I wouldn’t have to leave them. In the end, I left with great sadness. I wanted to stay with them so much! I haven’t received a permit to visit again.

Even though my mother fell ill, and I transferred the medical reports my family sent me to the Ministry of Civilian Affairs, my requests were denied. My sister Tahrir managed to get a permit. My mother’s health deteriorated, and in 2017, she had a stroke and passed away. I was shocked when I got this bitter news. I couldn’t believe I’d never see her again. I called my father right away and asked him to delay the burial until I could get there.

He sent me the death certificate, and I submitted an urgent request for permits with my sister Tahrir to the Ministry of Civilian Affairs. I came to the Erez Crossing at 7:00 A.M. and waited for about five hours until one of the officers told me that I was being denied for security reasons. Tahrir got the permit and went to the funeral. Those were the hardest days of my life - days of terrible sadness.

My father is 82 years old. He has cancer and suffers from a slipped disc. He underwent several surgeries in the nervous system. I really hope I can visit him and see him before God forbid something bad happens to him or he passes away. I don’t want what happened with my mother to happen again, and not be able to say goodbye to him. I call to hear how he’s doing almost every day and only see him on the phone screen. Every time, he tells me, “I miss you, Sawsan. I want to see you before I die.” I cry during these conversations. He always says at the end of the talk how much he misses me.

Sawsan’s sister, Tahani, described their father’s emotional distress and the family’s joyous events that are always mixed with longing and pain:

Sawsan didn’t manage to say goodbye to my mother before she passed away. It was a tragedy for her. Our father is now old, and a few weeks ago, we found out that he has cancer. Since then, Sawsan cries every time we talk on the phone. She tells me, “I’m afraid Dad will also die without me being able to say goodbye to him, and this wound will cause me heartache for the rest of my life.” She cries, and I cry with her because I see how sad my father is and how much he misses her. He tells me, “There’s nothing that pains me more than the forced separation from Sawsan and Tahrir.”

Since Sawsan’s last visit, a lot of things have happened in our family. My little brother got married, and so did nieces and nephews. But each one of these joyous occasions was mixed with pain since my sisters weren’t there with us, and none of them felt complete. It’s tough when we can’t see our loved ones, hug them and feel them. We talk on the phone almost every day, but it’s different and doesn’t make up for not getting together in person. Sawsan tells me, “If only I could just get up and come to you and visit like all the girls visit their family on different events and holidays.” She tells me she doesn’t like the holidays because all the women get a holiday visit from their families, and she doesn’t. We miss her at every event.

If they lived anywhere in the whole wide world, they could’ve come to us, but when it comes to Gaza, which is so close, the world turns upside down.