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From the field

Fatmah Abu 'Issa, 70, lives in Jenin. She related how she much she misses her daughter in Gaza, where she cannot visit her, and tells of her fear that she many never see her again.

Fatmah Abu 'Issa, 70

Fatmah Abu 'IssaI have 12 boys and girls. They all live here in Jeninm apart from my daughter Nibal who is 45. She married a man from Gaza and lives there with him. She and her husband, Yusri ‘Abdallah Mghari, studied together at al-Najah University. She’s lived far away from us ever since she got married in 1992. Since Israel closed the crossings to and from Gaza, we’ve all been suffering very much from the separation.

In the first few years after Nibal got married, the crossings were open and she used to visit us with her husband and their young sons, and my husband and I visited them on holidays. It was an exhausting journey, but visiting her was always a cause for celebration.

Video: So near and yet so far

After Israel closed the crossings, our lives changed and the distance from Nibal started making me miserable. I’m a mother and I miss Nibal and her children every day. It’s especially hard during the holidays and on special occasions. Every time Nibal gave birth, I was really worried about her and felt so bad that I couldn’t be with her, because a woman needs her mother at times like that. Even after the birth was over, I couldn’t relax until I heard that everything was okay with Nibal and the baby. It was especially hard because two of Nibal’s babies died shortly birth.

Since Nibal got married, four of her sisters and three of her brothers have gotten married, but she couldn’t attend any of the weddings. So instead of enjoying the weddings, I cried the whole time.

Our family gets together several times during Ramadan and we spend time together. Nibal is with us in our hearts, but only as sadness and pain because she can’t actually be there with us. During the holidays, I visit my daughters and play with my grandchildren, and every time I go into one of their homes, I imagine that I’m walking into Nibal’s house.

My husband’s name is Dr. Jamil Hamdan. In 2005, his health deteriorated and we tried to arrange for Nibal to come and see him here, in Jenin, but the Israeli authorities denied all her requests for permits. Nibal’s only opportunity to see her father was in ‘Amman [Jordan] went he went there for treatment. She travelled from Gaza to Egypt and from there to ‘Amman. She had to wait in Jordan for more than two weeks until she could go back to Gaza, because Rafah Crossing was closed. Nibal’s father died in 2005, and Nibal couldn’t attend the funeral. All her requests for permits were denied. She set up a mourning tent at her own house in Gaza. We were in touch with her by phone all the time, so that she wouldn’t feel alone. Her husband and his parents are very good people, but at times like that, a woman needs to be with her brothers and sisters.

In 2007, my daughter Rimah became very ill and her health deteriorated rapidly. We knew she was going to die very soon. All the medical reports emphasized that she was terminally ill. Nibal applied for permits to visit the West Bank and attached the medical reports, in the hope that she could see her sister before she died, but the Israeli authorities denied all her requests. They only let her in after Rimah died, but she didn’t even make it to the funeral because she was delayed at Erez Crossing for six hours.

On the day Rimah died, Nibal’s arrival had a very strong impact on me. When she walked into the mourning tent and saw me, we both started crying. I fainted because I was so sad that the Occupation had kept Nibal from seeing her sister and saying goodbye to her. I swear that Nibal’s absence is as sad to me as my sadness over Rimah’s death. Nibal and I talk on the phone every day. God bless her, she talks and her husband and children speak to me, but that’s not enough. Every night, when I go to sleep, and every morning, when I wake up, I think about Nibal and worry that I’ll die before I get to see her and her kids. My biggest wish is to see her.

About two weeks ago, I underwent cardiac catheterization. It was a nightmare, because I kept thinking that I was going to die without seeing Nibal. I was on the phone with her until I was taken into the operating room, and as soon as I got out of surgery, I spoke to her. I just wanted to put her at ease and tell her I was okay so that she wouldn’t worry, but I cried every time we talked. My sons told me that Nibal stayed on the line with them the whole time I was in surgery.

The same way that we Nibal at many celebrations and other occasions, she’s also had a lot of occasions when she’s needed us. It’s hard to imagine not being able to be a part of your child’s life and milestones, and it’s hard to imagine that I don’t know my grandchildren except through the phone. I haven’t hugged them in years. I pray that I don’t die before I get to see Nibal and her children and husband here, in my house. I don’t want Nibal to come to the mourning tent they’ll put up for me. I don’t want Nibal’s visits to Jenin to be only in mourning.

Fatmah Huseein Muhammad Abu 'Issa, is a widow, a mother of 12 and a resident of Jenin. She gave her testimony to B'Tselem field researcher 'Atef Abu a-Rub on 30 April 2013, in her home.