Suhair Hanoun is unable to see her mother.
Raised in the occupied West Bank city of Nablus – where her mother still lives – Suhair moved to Gaza more than two decades ago.
In 2021, the Israeli military informed Suhair that she had to sign a document after visiting her mother. The document was mostly in Hebrew, a language Suhair does not understand.
When she asked what the document contained, soldiers at Erez, the military checkpoint separating Gaza and Israel, refused to say. The Israeli soldiers just told Suhair that if she did not sign, she would not be allowed to enter Gaza and see her husband Ibrahim and their children.
A few days later, Suhair showed the document to a human rights group. She was shocked when she heard what she had “consented” to by signing it.
The document was effectively a declaration that Suhair was making Gaza her permanent residence. She would not be allowed to enter the West Bank again unless she submitted a relocation application.
Suhair – who is in her late 40s – has tried to visit her mother since signing the document. But Israel has repeatedly rejected her requests for travel permits.
She did file a relocation application in the hope of being allowed to live in the West Bank. But Israel rejected her request.
“It feels like I have been exiled,” Suhair said.
She had been planning to move to the West Bank with her children. Doing so, she added, was necessary “to give the children a happy future away from all the attacks on Gaza and the hard living conditions they have experienced.”
Israel began pressuring people from the West Bank entering Gaza via the Erez checkpoint to sign “permanent residence” declarations in 2009. Although the obligation to sign such papers was dropped after a few years, Israel has recently reintroduced it.
Even before she was forced to sign the declaration, Suhair had trouble getting permits for travel between Gaza and the West Bank. She has only seen her mother and siblings in Nablus twice since moving to Gaza in 2002.
The first occasion was in 2011, when her mother – diagnosed with diabetes – had health problems. The second was in 2021, when one of Suhair’s siblings underwent open heart surgery.
At other times, Israel would not allow her to travel. As a result, she was unable to attend her father’s funeral in 2008 and her brother’s wedding in 2016.
Earlier this year, the human rights group Al Mezan reported that more than 100 women and children have submitted applications so they could move from Gaza to the West Bank. Some of the requests were made more than a decade ago yet Israel has still not processed them.
Israel’s policies have often forced families apart.
Parents in Gaza sometimes have to bring up children alone while the other parent works and lives in the West Bank. As a result, families are only able to keep in touch by telephone or the internet.
The cruel permit regime enforced by Israel violates free movement rights enshrined in international humanitarian law.
Sali Abu Jumeiza hardly ever sees her father Qasem – except via video call.
Qasem moved from Gaza to the West Bank about 13 years ago, finding work in a clothing factory.
Sali – now in her mid 20s – got married in March.
Qasem was not able to attend the wedding.
“He had no choice,” said Qasem’s wife – and Sali’s mother – Tesaheel. “He can only attend family occasions via video call.”
As soon as he moved to the West Bank, Qasem filed an application so his family could join him there. But Israel has never granted him the required permission.
Since moving to the West Bank, Qasem has visited his family in Gaza just three times. Each visit only lasted a few days.
The travel permits issued to him by Israel would have expired if he stayed any longer. Four years have passed since his last trip.
Qasem fears that Israel would prevent him from leaving Gaza and that he would thereby lose the chance of reentering the West Bank.
“He has been trying to get the family back together for years,” said Tesaheel, his wife. “He doesn’t want to destroy those efforts by spending three days in Gaza – even if it means sacrificing his happiness.”
Khuloud Rabah Sulaiman is a journalist living in Gaza.