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From the field

Israel prevents a prisoner's parents from visiting him in Gilboa Prison


owner of a medical-supply shop

On 28 November 2003, the army detained my son, L., while he was on his way back to Tulkarm from Jenin. They detained him at a mobile military checkpoint set up on the road to al-Atara, a village east of Bal'a. After he was detained, they took him to an interrogation facility whose location I did not know and interrogated him for seventy-three days. After that, he was transferred to Megiddo Prison, where he was held for three months. Then he was transferred to Gilboa Prison, in Israel , where he continues to be held.

On 21 February 2005, the Sallem military court sentenced L. to fourteen years' imprisonment following a plea bargain between the lawyer Riad al-Aardia, from the Palestinian Prisoners Association and the Israeli military prosecutor. There were about ten court hearings from the day he was detained until the day the verdict was given. My wife and I were present at all of them. We could see him, but weren't allowed to talk to him, touch him, or pass things to him. He sat 15 meters away from us and we could not have any contact with him.

We submitted a request to visit after the interrogation phase, and we continued to make requests weekly. The Israelis rejected each of them. Finally, in June 2005, we received a one-month permit to visit our son. When the day for the visit arrived, we went to the offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to register along with the other parents. Overall, 250 people registered to visit that day.

I remember that day and will never forget it. The whole family got up early. We were very happy that the day of the visit had arrived. We took our children Fadi, 15, and Hani, 10. We were told it was forbidden to bring any food products to the prisoners, and that only dark-colored, grey, or brown underwear, socks, and track suits were allowed in. We left the house at five in the morning and went to the ICRC office in Tulkarm, where the prisoners' parents gather and board special buses arranged by the ICRC. We waited until everyone who had registered arrived. Everybody had special permits to visit the prison, and some brought young children under the age of sixteen. We filled up five buses, which were from the a-Tayb company.

We left at 6:30 A.M. and drove to the a-Tayba checkpoint, also called Artah Checkpoint. At the checkpoint, we got off the bus and after undergoing a body search, and a check of our belongings, permits, and ID cards, we boarded Israeli buses. The whole process took about an hour, after which we continued on our way. Two police cars escorted the buses, one at the front and the other at the back. The drive took about two and a half hours.

When we arrived, we got out of the bus for the security checks and search, the checking of the ID cards, permits, and personal belongings. When my turn came, I handed over my ID card and the special permit for the visit, and then one of the prison guards told me that I was not allowed to visit, which surprised me. I asked him, in Arabic, "Why am I forbidden to visit?" The reason, he said, was that I had been arrested in the past, in 1976. I told him, "More than thirty years have passed since then. I was arrested and released. Why am I prevented from visiting?" I was detained for a total of nineteen days in 1976.

I begged him to let me visit, because it was the first time that I had come to visit my son since he was arrested, and had not seen him for a year and a half. The guard refused. I had to sit in the waiting room until the end of the visit. My wife and children were allowed to visit my son.

My wife told me that the visit took place in a room with a glass wall and that they talked through a telephone. The conversation lasted only twenty-five minutes, after which communication was severed. She didn't know if someone from the outside severs the connection or whether it happens automatically. When the connection is broken, it's impossible to complete the conversation, and the prison guard orders the prisoners to leave and make room for the next group. The items that are allowed in are handed over to the guard, who gives them to the prisoners.

At five o'clock, all the visits ended and we headed back to Tulkarm. We drove non-stop to the Jabara checkpoint, which we reached at eight o'clock. The buses are not allowed to stop inside Israel . At the checkpoint, we boarded the a-Tayb buses again for the trip home.

My wife's visiting permit has not been renewed since then. This was the only time she visited L. Only our children continue to visit him. I send them with other prisoners' parents and ask them to look after my children. The visit takes place every twenty-one days. But when there's a closure, the visit is cancelled.

B.S., 47, married with three children, is the owner of a medical-supply shop and a resident of Tulkarm District. His testimony was given to 'Abd al-Karim Sa'adi in Tulkarm, on 11 December 2005.