Najah al-Qatnani in her home in Gaza City. Photo: Olfat al-Kurd, B'Tselem, 2 Aug. 2017
I was born and raised in al-Jalazun refugee camp in the West Bank. My sister introduced me to my husband, and we got married in Gaza City in 1976. My relatives from the West Bank came to the wedding. After we got married, I moved to Gaza City to live with my husband. He provides for us by selling shoes in the market. I used to drive regularly to visit my family in the West Bank, and they would also come to see us. Over the years we had nine children, seven of whom are now married.
After the first intifada, I was hardly ever permitted to visit my family any more. Every time there was a family celebration I’d submit an application for a permit from the Civil Administration, but didn’t get it. In 1994, my father had a heart attack and I got a permit to visit him, but for just two days. He died that year and I didn’t get a permit to mourn for him together with my family.
A year later, in 1995, my mother died. Once again, I wasn’t allowed to attend the funeral or mourn with my family. My sisters sent me the death certificate, which I attached to an urgent application to the Civil Administration, but it was rejected. I was shocked when they turned down my application. I was so sad. They didn’t let me go to both my parents’ funerals, after I’d barely seen them for years and couldn’t care for them when they were sick. I mourned at home and my neighbors came to support me, but my head and heart were at home in Jalazun, where my mother died.
Over the years, my mother kept asking me to come and see her. I explained that I’d submitted applications for permits but that they’d been rejected. We’d cry together on the phone about our situation and about our lives – the distance between us and the Israeli checkpoints that kept us apart.
In 2004, my brother ‘Omar got married. I applied for a permit, attaching the invitation to the wedding, but even that request was turned down. When I was refused and realized that I wouldn’t be able to attend my brother’s wedding, it hurt so much that I cried. It was my little brother getting married, and I really wanted to be beside him on his wedding day. Our mother had died and I felt that I should accompany him on her behalf. I sat at home while they celebrated the wedding, and couldn’t bear being so far away. Since then, every few months I’ve submitted an application to visit my brothers and sisters, but the Israeli authorities keep rejecting them without any explanation or justification for separating me from my family.
In September 2007, I was surprised to get a permit for an ordinary family visit, for a single day. Since then, I’ve submitted many more requests but they’ve all been rejected. My brothers and sisters ask me to visit them. I miss them a lot and feel that I need to see them.
A month ago, I asked for a permit to visit my brothers and sisters after years of not seeing them. We want to meet up, but yet again I didn’t get a permit. I miss them a lot and really want to see them.
I live with constant longing for my brothers and sisters. I hope we can meet soon. Despite the distance, I call them almost every day to check that they’re okay and to keep in touch. I hope I’ll get a permit to visit them and have a few days together before returning to Gaza.
Najah Rashid 'Abd al-Fatat al-Katanani, 55, married with nine children, is a resident of a-Shuja'iya neighborhood in Gaza City. B'Tselem field researcher Olfat al-Kurd took her testimony on 18 July 2017, in her home.