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Occupied Lives: Not knowing what your son looks like

Abu Hosni
Sarfiti (61), who lives in Sheik Radwan, Gaza City, is very familiar with the
issue of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails: “I have
three sons and four daughters. Two of my sons were killed by the Israeli army:
my oldest son, Hosni, was 23 years and Mohammed was 7 years old when he was
killed. My only living son, Ali Nidal al Sarfiti, has been in prison since 7
July 2002, when he was arrested at the Erez crossing. He had been given a permit
by the Israeli authorities to travel through the crossing, but when he arrived
there that day, he was taken to jail. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison
for participating in resistance activities during an army incursion in
Jabaliya. Ali is now 32 years old. He was engaged when he was arrested, but
that has ended.”



Over the
past 9 years, Abu Hosni has rarely seen his son: “I have only been able to
visit him twice in jail; the last time was in 2003. My wife went on three
visits, until 2004. In that year, on 16 March, our oldest son Hosni was killed
by the occupation army. Since then our entire family has been denied family
visits, citing security reasons. We went to several human rights organizations
and the ICRC, but it was in vain.”


letters is the only way Abu Hosni can communicate with his son: “I send Ali
many letters through the Red Cross, but receive few in reply. Through people
from the West Bank who come to visit their relatives in jail, Ali passes
messages to us. We cannot make phone calls. When Ali was in Naqab prison we
received a few phone calls from him, but that was because he could use a phone
other prisoners had hidden in the cell. Now that Ali is held in Nafha prison,
everything is a lot harder.” From people that are in contact with prisoners,
Abu Hosni was informed that Ali had been on hunger strike since 17 April.


Unable to
know the wellbeing of his son is the biggest burden for Abu Hosni: “The most
difficult moments for me are times when Ali is sick or there are incidents
inside the prison. We cannot find out directly from Ali but only through those
who are able to make visits to the prisons. Anything could be wrong with him.
During and after the interrogation period, Ali had bleeding in his stomach, for
which he was hospitalized for 3 months. We found out through other people when
he had already been sick for quite a while.”


Abu Hosni
continues: “This is suffering. It is very difficult for a father or parent not
to see his son, who is in jail. My 2 other sons were killed. I know their fate,
and that they are gone.  However, Ali is
still here, and I am not allowed to visit him or know how he is doing. One of
our daughters is married and living in Saudi Arabia. We could visit each other,
we can phone each other and we talk via the internet, but I cannot do the same
with my son who is in jail.”


Over 2,000
Palestinians held in Israeli prisons and detention facilities have been on
hunger strike since 17 April 2012 or National Prisoners’ Day.  They have demanded that the Israeli prison
authorities: improve their living conditions in the Israeli prisons; ensure
family visitations, particularly for the prisoners from the Gaza Strip; allow
detainees to receive education; and put an end to the solitary confinement
policy, repression and night searches. 
Several prisoners started hunger striking before 17 April and are now in
a critical health condition, most notably Bilal Diab and ThaerHalahleh.


Following an
agreement brokered by the Egyptian authorities on 14 May, between the prisoners
and detainees and the Israeli authorities, the hunger strike ended. The
specific details and implementation of the agreement were not released at the
time of publication.


Since 17
April the hunger strike started spreading outside the prison walls, with a
growing number of people in the West Bank and Gaza Strip hunger striking in
solidarity.  Abu Hosni has been limiting
himself to water and salt since 2 May. This is the third time he has
participated in a hunger strike to improve the conditions of Palestinian
prisoners. “We were 55 men and 30 women. People visited us in the tents to show
solidarity, which made the time pass quicker.” He explains: “We don’t have
demands for ourselves, but we support the prisoners and their demands. The
basics demands are to be allowed family visits, as well as an end to solitary
confinement, administrative detention, torture, punitive measures and naked
searches. The deal constitutes a great achievement and is wonderful new.”
Despite the excitement, Abu Hosni does not know how the agreement ending the
hunger strike will affect the situation with his family. The details of future
family visits have not yet been specified.


“It has been
9 years now, a long time,” Abu Hosni says. 
“Ali’s face must have changed during those years. If I would visit him
now, I might not be able to recognize him. His is growing older in jail and I
don’t know what he looks like now.”


The torture
and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees are violations of
Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well
as common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. Following the capture of soldier
Gilad Shalit all prisoners from the Gaza Strip have been denied their right to
family visits by the Israeli authorities since 6 June 2007. The collective
denial of family visits and regular communication with relatives constitutes a
form of collective punishment in violation of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva