Divided Palestinian family
Kowkab Jilo and two of her daughters were forcibly separated from the rest of their family in the occupied West Bank a year and a half ago. They now live in fear and anguish in Gaza, crying most of the day, with little or no hope of ever being reunited with their family.
The Jilos are among dozens, if not hundreds, of families in the occupied Palestinian territories who have been forcibly separated. The reason? Israel is trying to legally separate the West Bank and Gaza, even though they form a single, integral territorial unit under international agreements. As a result, Palestinians are being cut off from each other.
The Jilo family originally comes from Gaza. When the parents - Ghazi and Kowkab - were young, they moved to the West Bank, got married and started a family. They eventually settled in the village of Qalqilya near the Israeli border 14 years ago. They never bothered to exchange their Gazan ID cards for West Bank IDs because they considered themselves simply as Palestinians.
A year and a half ago, Kowkab and her two daughters went to visit one of her other daughters in a village near Jerusalem. On the way there, they were stopped at an Israeli checkpoint. When they presented their ID cards, Israeli soldiers put them in a military vehicle and sent them to Gaza border. Kowkab says:
"We pleaded with them. We tried to convince them to let us go back to Qalqilya because that's where our homes and families are. But they refused. They told us to go and stay in Gaza with a relative."
Ever since then, both Kowkab and her husband have been trying to get the family back together. In Gaza, Kowkab met hundreds of times with the Palestinian Civil Affairs Department which coordinates the movement of Palestinians between Gaza and the West Bank with the Israeli authorities. But they were not able to help her, says Kowkab.
"Each time they would give me excuses. They never did anything to help me."
In the West Bank, Ghazi has also been trying to move heaven and earth to get his wife and daughters back. He even met with the chief of protocol of the Palestinian president. But, he says:
"Everyone has tried to help. They want to help, but they can't do anything."
The divided family calls each other every day, but Kowkab says
"Nothing compares with being able to see your children, sit with them and do things with them. I'm afraid that they will forget me, that they'll forget what I look like because they haven't seen me in such a long time." For Kowkab's 27-year-old daughter, Nisreen, being trapped in Gaza is even more unbearable. She separated from her husband, and her two children - her 3½-year-old son and her 12-year-old daughter - now have neither a mother nor a father to take care of them. Nisreen can't conceive of asking her children to join her in Gaza. Since Israel imposed a siege on the territory in the summer of 2007 after the Hamas militants took over power, Gaza has been completely cut off from the outside world. Nisreen explains that
"Bringing them to Gaza would mean that they would miss out on their childhood. Here in Gaza children grow up to be young men and women at a very early age. They don't have a proper childhood. I want the best for my children. I want them to have a good life, to be able to live happily and in a place that provides them at least a minimum amount of freedom. Gaza is a very big prison and bringing them here would be condemning them to a life of misery."
The Jilos say that, at times, they still have some hope that they will be reunited, but most of the time they think it will never happen. Kowkab says she spends her days sitting alone and crying.
"Sometimes I go visit my brothers, but when I see their daughters, they remind me of my daughters and I start crying. I can't take it. That's why I just stay at home, think and cry."
Ghazi too spends a lot of his time crying. He says:
"I feel helpless. My wife and two daughters were living peacefully in the West Bank without any problems. They just went to visit one of my other daughters and then they were sent to Gaza. Israel has no mercy. If they knew God, they wouldn't have deprived our family of them. This is a sin."
Radio Netherlands Worldwide recorded the Jilo's story before the Israeli invasion of Gaza in late December.
We have contacted the Spokesperson's Unit at the Israeli Defence Forces about the Jilo case. They sent us the following statement:
"The current situation in the south of the country has forced us to suspend dealing with normal media inquiries in order to handle urgent operational issues. We will let you know as soon as we are able to deal with your query."
We have tried repeatedly to get through to Kowkab or Nisreen Jilo in Gaza but without success. We have spoken to Ghazi who says that his wife and daughters are well though they had to leave the house they were staying at because of the Israeli attacks.