“I don’t want to grow up without him,” says Zeina, 12, a Palestinian girl from the Ras al-Amud neighborhood of eastern occupied Jerusalem, whose dad has been jailed since she was a baby.
Defence for Children International - Palestine Section (DCI) has released this brief video in which Zeina speaks of her longing to be reunited with her father who is serving a 20-year sentence.
“A big void in my heart”
Zeina’s story highlights the plight of Palestinian children growing up without parents because Israel jails thousands of Palestinian political prisoners who are tried in military courts without due process and frequently based on “secret evidence.”
In the video, Zeina says how a large plot of land was confiscated for the construction of apartments for Israeli settlers: “So my dad and some guys from Silwan put up tents and protested. So the police took them all away and against the wishes of the residents of Ras al-Amud the settlement was built.”
Although he is not there, Zeina makes her father a part of her everyday life. Every morning she wakes up to a framed photo of him. She is learning to play the oud at the Palestinian National Conservatory of Music — an instrument her father loves — and the family holds a celebration on his birthday.
But Zeina says that “because dad is not at home and I can’t see him, I feel like something is missing. He has to be there to take care of me so that I can feel stronger and more secure. I feel that there’s a big void in my heart.”
Rare, brief visits to her dad make her feel happy because she is going to see him and sad because he does not leave the prison with her afterwards.
Zeina dreams that her dad will come out of prison when she is still a young girl so that “he can play with me and help me with school. He has never carried me or held my hand or taken me to places. I want him to hold my hand as he walks me to school.”
When Zeina was four years old, a child psychologist asked her to make a drawing from her imagination. She drew a giraffe next to a prison wall. “The giraffe has a long neck and she can reach above the prison wall, check up on my dad and come back and tell me that he is all right,” Zeina explains.
Physical contact denied for 10 years
In response to my request for more information about Zeina’s visits to her father, DCI’s Ayed Abu Eqtaish wrote me that Zeina used to visit her father twice a month for 45 minutes.
Zeina has to talk with her father via a telephone because a glass partition separates them. However, since his transfer to Naqab prison two weeks ago, Zeina can now visit her father only once a month for 45 minutes.
Eqtaish added that the last time when Zeina was allowed to be have physical contact with her father was ten years ago when she was aged two.
Meanwhile the number of Palestinian political prisoners held in Israeli prisons this year rose from 4,743 in January to 5,071 in August. The number of administrative detainees decreased from 178 to 134.
The number of children detained by Israel increased by two to 195, and the number of detained women increased by three to 13, according to prisoners rights organization Addameer.