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Three-year-old Jihad travels alone, to see his father in prison in Israel

D'.A., teacher

In August 2000, I married R., my cousin, who is twenty-eight years old. We got married and I came to live with him in the West Bank . I came from Jordan into the Occupied Territories on a visitor's permit. After marrying, I remained illegally. I didn't try to obtain legal status via family unification and didn't even renew my visitor's permit.

My husband works for Palestinian Intelligence in Jericho . On 1 May 2001, he was on his way to work when the Israeli army detained him near the Halamish military base, south of Beit Rima . At the time, I was in my seventh month of pregnancy. On 10 August, I gave birth and called my son Jihad. During the two years of my husband's detention, nobody was allowed to visit him. My father-in-law, who is sixty-five, saw him at court sessions in Beit El. My mother-in-law was sick with cancer and couldn't travel to see him. She died in 2003 without having seen him.

R.'s father received a permit to visit him around June 2003, two years after he was arrested. He visited him in Ashkelon Prison and then visited him again a month later. Since then, he has not received a permit to visit. All of his requests were denied on security grounds. My husband's sisters, all of whom are married and live in the Ramallah area, tried to get a permit to visit him. The eldest sister is forty years old and the youngest is twenty-three. All the requests were rejected without explanation. The last request they submitted was in July 2005. They never received a response. We did not try to get permits for my husband's brothers because Israel refuses to let males aged 16-45 visit in prisons in Israel .

In April 2003, my husband was convicted and sentenced to ten years and six months in prison. My son Jihad became the sole link connecting my husband and me. My father-in-law took him on two visits to the prison. He was then about one and a half years old. From then until he was three, he didn't visit his father. When he was three, I began to send him on visits under the care of relatives of other prisoners from our village. Despite the difficulties and obstacles with which we have had to cope, I felt that if my husband sees his child, the visit would make it a bit easier for him in jail. I didn't want my son to be prevented from seeing his father. I know that they don't let a three-year-old child hug his father, that he only sees him through a glass window and bars, which hurts me a lot. When Jihad comes home from the visit, he is exhausted, despite the care he receives from the other families during the visit.

On days that my son goes to visit his father, we get up very early, because by 4:00 A.M. he has to get on the bus for Ramallah. At about 7:00-7:30, the visitors get onto an ICRC bus that takes them to the prison in Israel . They reach the prison between 10:00 and 12:00. They get back very late, sometimes at midnight or at one o'clock in the morning. The visit itself lasts for about forty minutes, but because of the wait before going in for the visit and having to wait until everybody else finishes, they get home really late. When I ask my son about the visit with his father, he says, "I saw Daddy, he told me good-bye, and the army didn't let him walk with me. Daddy sends regards to you" or "Daddy wants cigarettes." I feel helpless, and it makes me sad and tense because I can't visit my husband together with my child. It really hurts when I listen to my small child, who goes through this suffering, which adults can't bear. I have to send him on the visits because he is the only connection between my husband and me.

Four-year-old Jihad travels without alone to visit his father imprisoned in Israel. Photo: B'Tselem.
Jihad, at age four, traveling alone to visit his father imprisoned in Israel. Photo: B'Tselem. />

Jihad visits his father twice a month. He has visited him in different prisons because my husband has been transferred from one prison to another in Israel . He was imprisoned in Ashkelon, in Ketziot, in Megiddo , Ramle, Damon, Hadarim, Napha, and Shata. He is in Beersheva now. The last time Jihad went to visit him was a month and a half ago. He was supposed to visit him [today] Wednesday, December 7, 2005, but the visits were cancelled because of the closure that was imposed following the attack in Netanya.

On each of his visits, I send clothes and things for my husband, such as underwear, pajamas, a tooth brush, and also personal letters. The prison administration allows some of things and some they return to Jihad. It differs each time. In Beersheva, they returned the underwear, in the Negev they returned the drinking glasses, in Hadarim they returned pants because they had a zipper and not buttons.

I asked the people who watched over Jihad how he was during the day, and they replied that he is a quiet and shy child, and doesn't consent to accept anything from them, not even something to eat or drink. I made sure, of course, that he had enough food and drink of his own for the whole day. He sleeps most of the time in the bus. He sometimes gets to his father sleepy and tired. Sometimes he cries when the visit ends.

I haven't seen my husband for five years. It is painful and makes me sad. My only compensation is my son Jihad, who grows from day to day. He visits my husband and tells him how I feel, and he also tells me how my husband feels. He makes me feel calm about my husband and about how he is doing in the Israeli prisons. I pray that we can meet soon.

D.'A., 29, a Jordanian national, married with one son, is a teacher and a resident of Ramallah District. Her testimony was given to Iyad Hadad at the witness' house on 7 December 2005.