‘My youngest child has no idea that I am his mother’

Recently released Palestinian prisoner and mother of six says she is finding it hard to reintegrate into her family.

Dalal Abu al-Hawa
Abu al-Hawa was imprisoned on August 28, 2016, on allegations that she gave Hamas-affiliated prisoners cash inside Israeli detention centres [Al Jazeera]

Dalal Abu al-Hawa’s 22-month-old son does not recognise her.

Hamza was just 10 months old when his mother was imprisoned for a year by an Israeli court for charges she vehemently denies. 

Abu al-Hawa, who was released on August 7, is having trouble sleeping, is considering seeing a psychiatrist and is finding it hard to reintegrate into her family. “My youngest son [Hamza] refuses to come close to me. 

“I wanted to put him on my lap, but he hit my hand and ran away,” Abu al-Hawa tells Al Jazeera. 

READ MORE: How Israel occupied the rest of Palestine

The mother of six was imprisoned on August 28, 2016, on allegations that she gave Hamas-affiliated prisoners cash inside Israeli detention centres. During her time in prison, her husband, Abu Omar, and children were denied the right to visit her.

Her eldest son, Omar, was also handed a two-and-a-half-year sentence at around the same time, for allegedly throwing Molotov cocktails at Israeli occupation forces. Omar continues to languish in the Megiddo prison, north of the occupied West Bank.

She recalls the pain she experienced last October when both their trials were set on the same day. “I got out of the bus and Omar was in the [military] jeep behind us.”

“I wanted to embrace him and when I did, the police forces took me away from him, and kept kicking him in his stomach. It was a hard thing to witness as a mother. Then they threatened to beat him if we tried to talk to each other, even from a distance,” she explains.

Like other prisoners, Abu al-Hawa endured humiliating conditions during her 23-day-long interrogation period and detention centre in occupied East Jerusalem. She remembers them with anxiety.

“I did not know day from night,” she said. “They never turned off the lights, even at night, and they left the air conditioner on at a very low temperature – I was freezing.”

“I found a soft drink bottle and I used it as a pillow to sleep. As soon as I would fall asleep, there would be loud bangs on the door. I had three cameras watching me. They [prison guards] brought me a blanket that smelled foul. And even when I went to the bathroom, I had to wear handcuffs.”

READ MORE: What it means to be a Palestinian prisoner in Israel

Abu al-Hawa says she was psychologically abused during the interrogation, where she endured long hours of questioning. She recalls how at some points during the interrogation, more than one officer would ask her questions simultaneously to try to confuse and pressure her.

She described a new interrogation tactic, where the interrogators would put a chair very close to a wall that displayed what she described as a nauseating painting. They would make you sit there for hours under an air conditioner in freezing temperatures, she said. 

Her ordeal did not end there. Upon being freed, she was handed an Israeli order banning her from returning to Jerusalem, where she resided with her family prior to being incarcerated.The ban order meant that she must live on the West Bank side of Israel’s illegal Separation Wall, which divides the West Bank from Jerusalem.

“When I left the court, they gave my husband an [order] that said I am not allowed to return to Jerusalem. My husband rented a house in July, and prepared it for me, and when I was released from prison, I came here to Ezariyeh.”

Her family will now have to cross an Israeli military checkpoint to attend school, go to a hospital, or visit family.

Unlike the rest of her family, who hold Jerusalem IDs, Abu al-Hawa has a West Bank ID, which, due to Israel’s occupation, does not allow her to live in Jerusalem. However, she managed to obtain a family reunification permit, renewed on a yearly basis, from Israel to live in Jerusalem with her family, but she says it has been constantly revoked.

Sahar Francis, a lawyer at the Addameer prisoner rights association, says that Israel can ban an individual with a valid permit to live in Jerusalem “based on security claims … and they can cancel the whole process for family unification,” Francis told Al Jazeera.

In a recent report, New York-based Human Rights Watch, affirmed that such orders could amount to war crimes. “Deportation or forced transfers of any part of the population of an occupied territory could amount to war crimes under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court,” the report reads. 

“The prohibition on forcible transfer extends beyond cases in which a military force directly relocates a population under its control, to cases in which the military force makes life so difficult that people are essentially forced to leave. Human rights law also protects the right to freely leave and return to one’s own country.” 

Now that Abu al-Hawa is not allowed to return to her home in the al-Tur neighbourhood in Jerusalem, she is worried about the difficulties ahead. 

“My six children have Jerusalem IDs and they go to school in Jerusalem, so I don’t know how I’m going to handle this if I am living in the West Bank. If one of my kids is sick, how can I take him to get treatment in Jerusalem? Only their dad can take them.

“The same goes for schools as well. There is a wall between where I live now and my home in al-Tur [a town in Jerusalem], so I do not know how I am going to deal with this. I do not know how my kids are going to cross the checkpoint every day, because they are still young,” says Abu al-Hawa.

Israeli checkpoints between the West Bank and Jerusalem are arduous at best and can transform a 20-minute car ride into hours of waiting in line and humiliation. 

Her husband says he feels an incomplete joy because his wife cannot go back to her home in Jerusalem. “We had to rent a home in the West Bank and our eldest son is in prison. All praise to God – happiness is never complete,” he tells Al Jazeera.

Abu Omar says living without his wife was “very hard”.

“It is hard to understand until you live through it. I had to take care of five kids alone.

“I did not know how to change my son’s diaper or make him milk, and my daughter was still young. When one of my kids would get sick, we would have to rush them to the doctor. Things like this were hard for me. Our son, who was four years old, used to always ask for his mom and say ‘When is she coming home?’ He broke my heart.”

“Until now, Hamza, our youngest, does not go near his mom. While she was in jail, I kept two large pictures of her in the house, and would tell him ‘This is Mama’ so he would not forget her. However, when she got out of prison, he would not go near her at all.”

Though it has been a week since her release, Hamza still has no idea that she is his mother. “He does not remember me. If I want to kiss or hug him, I have to do it when he is asleep.”

Source: Al Jazeera