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Najah Hamdan was denied the chance to say her goodbyes to her parents in Gaza before they passed away

Najah Hamdan, 53

I was born in Gaza. My family lives in Jabalya refugee camp. Thirty-three years ago, I married a resident of Bethlehem and moved here. In the early years, there was no problem travelling between Gaza and the West Bank. I used to visit my family there, and they visited me here. Since the crossing was closed, and especially since the second intifada broke out, things have become tough. I applied many times for permits to visit my family in Gaza, but most were denied.

When there’s a family celebration here in Bethlehem, I always feel as though something is missing. My happiness is never complete because none of my Gazan relatives can attend. When two of my sons got married – one in 2007 and the other in 2009 – none of my relatives [from Gaza] could attend the weddings. It’s hard marrying off my sons without my brothers and sisters. I couldn’t take part in my family’s celebrations in Gaza either. We just send our good wishes by phone, like strangers. I don’t know my sisters’ sons. I don’t know a whole generation of nephews that have been born and grown up.

About nine years ago, my father was hospitalized for a month. His condition was serious. My brothers sent me medical reports to submit together with my request for a permit. The permit was issued too late, a day after my father died.

I came to Gaza after I hadn’t been there for many years, missing my family. My father had already been buried, and I didn’t get the chance to see him for the last time and say goodbye. When I saw my mother and brothers standing in the mourning tent, I broke down in tears, because it was the first time I’d seen them in years, and it was in the mourning tent for my father, who had passed away while I was missing him. My brothers and I went to say goodbye to him at the cemetery.

Every time I remember standing next to my father’s grave and visiting my family, I cry, especially when I was in that situation again, when my mother died two years ago. She got sick and was in hospital for three months. During that time, I filed requests to get a permit to visit Gaza and see her, but I was told that if I went to Gaza, I couldn’t come back. After three months, my mother died. I cried a lot. I didn’t get a chance to see her and say goodbye. My brothers filmed my mother in hospital. I saw the tape and it was one of the hardest things I’d ever seen. It was a feeling of bitterness and sadness. It’s so hard to see your mother when she’s dying About nine years ago, my father was in hospital for a month, in a serious condition. My brothers sent me medical reports to submit together with my requests for a permit. They gave me the permit too late, a day after my father died. I came to Gaza after many years of being away and missing my family. My father was buried before I got a chance to see him a last time, and I didn’t get to say goodbye to him. When I saw my mother and brothers standing in the mourning tent, I broke down crying, because it was the first time I’d seen them in years, and of all places we were meeting in mourning for my father, who passed away while I was missing him so badly. I went to the graveyard with my brothers to say goodbye to him.

Every time I remember that situation of standing next to my father’s grave and visiting my family, I cry, especially when I was in that situation again, when my mother died two years ago. She got sick and was in hospital for three months. During that time, I filed requests to get a permit to visit Gaza and see her, but I was told that if I went to Gaza, I couldn’t come back.

Three months later, my mother died. I cried a lot. I didn’t get a chance to see her and say goodbye. My brothers filmed my mother in hospital. I saw the tape and it was one of the hardest things I’d ever seen. I felt so bitter and sad. It’s so hard to see your mother when she’s dying and you’re not next to her holding her hand and saying goodbye. There’s nothing harder than that painful moment. How can you deny a person their chance to see their father and mother and say goodbye to them when they’re sick? Something broke inside me. Yes, we’re all going to die and we’ll all have to go on without the people we love at some point, but we do that after we say goodbye, without someone keeping us from saying goodbye to the ones we love.

If Erez Crossing had an “emotion detector”, the place would be smothered by pain. Every person at the crossing has a personal story. I remember the two hours that it took me to go through it, knowing that my mother was already dead and that I wouldn’t be able to say goodbye to her. I had to undergo unpleasant inspections and then go through one gate after another, following instructions that soldiers announced on a loudspeaker.

When we were done at Erez Crossing, my brothers arrived. I was so excited to see them. I felt like I was seeing my mother, to whom I hadn’t been able to say goodbye. They drove us home in their car. After so many years, I don’t think I would have known the way alone. The hardest part was when we got to my family’s house and my mother was not there to greet me after all the years I’d been away. We stayed at home for a week, in mourning. I went home with the tape of mother in hospital. It’s the last keepsake I have of her.

Najah Muhammad Jaber Hamdan, 53, is a mother of five and resident of Bethlehem. She gave her testimony, at home, to Suha Zeid on 21 April 2013.