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From the field

Nablus resident Asmaa Zaghlul describes the pain of living apart from her family in Gaza

Asmaa Zaghlul, 30

Asmaa ZaghlulI met my husband, Amjad Zaghlul, in 2002. We happened to meet at a relative's house during a visit to Jordan. We kept in touch via the Internet and decided to get married.

Our wedding was held in Nablus [the West Bank]. My parents and I received only a three-day entry permit to the West Bank. The wedding was held a day after we got there. I have eight brothers and sisters, and none of them could get a permit to attend my wedding. Everyone at the wedding was happy but me. I kept crying and was very sad to have left my family. I never imagined that my brothers, sisters, relatives and friends wouldn't be with me on my wedding day. I felt lonely and sad. The next day, my mother and father went back to Gaza, and they haven't been able to get a permit to visit me since. Neither have my brothers and sisters. All requests they submitted have been denied.

Over the years we had three children. They are Khaled, 7, Maryam, 8, and Sanaa, 3. Also I haven't been able to visit my family in Gaza since the wedding, because I'm listed as a resident of Gaza on my identity card, so if I go there, I won’t be allowed to return to Nablus, to my husband and children. I applied several times for a change of address, but the Palestinian DCO informed me that the Israeli DCO rejected them. I took my case to a lawyer, but after a while he, too, told me that the Israeli side had refused.

In 2009, the Palestinian Authority finally updated the address on my identity card. I was so happy, I can't describe it. I packed my bags and went to the [Allenby] bridge with Jordan, so I could travel to Gaza via Egypt. But when I got to the bridge, I found out that the Israeli authorities still had me registered as a Gaza resident so I wasn’t let through. I went home and cried my heart out.

In 2011, the Israeli authorities finally updated my address. I started saving money 5,000 USD - so I could take my kids to Gaza. We started out in August 2012. Traveling to Gaza through two countries, with children, was tough and exhausting. At the crossings, the kids got tired of waiting and kept running around. The Israeli authorities at the bridge sent me to one office and my children to another, so they had to cross without me and wait for me once they were across. On the way we had to stay overnight at a hotel in 'Aqaba [Jordan] and wait for a ship to take us to Egypt.

We got to Nu'eibah Port in Egypt at 1:00 A.M. We took a taxi to Egyptian Rafah. I'd heard a lot of frightening stories about kidnapping and organ trade in Sinai, so I was very worried about my kids. The drive took six hours and the driver zoomed along, because we were in dangerous place. The kids asked for a bathroom stop and the driver refused. He said it was too dangerous to stop there, even at a gas station, and that we could be kidnapped. I was terrified and didn't know what to do with the kids. My son, Khaled, ended up peeing out of the car window, with the car in motion. I put a diaper on my little girl, and Maryam had to hold it in until we reached a rest stop near Rafah, where my brother was waiting for us.

When I saw him, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I relaxed and felt that my children and I were safe. I was so happy - I hadn't seen him in nine years. He was seventeen when I got married, and now he's a man. He’d gotten married and has two kids. We finally to Gaza, and everything was different. When I left home, my brothers and sisters were little, and now they're mothers and fathers. They all got married after me. When I saw my brother Ahmad, 20, and my sister Salsabil, 18, I didn't recognize them. They shook hands with me and hugged me, and I didn't recognize them. When they told me they were my brother and sister, I cried. I stayed in Gaza for three months, but the time flew by and we went back to Nablus.

In December 2012, my father passed away. I applied for an entry permit to Gaza that very same day, but didn't get it and couldn't attend the funeral. I almost went crazy – my father had died and I was alone in Nablus. I wanted to go to Gaza no matter what. I wanted to see my father before he was buried. I contacted HaMoked and they handled my case. I got the permit a week after my father died. The permit was for a week, and I went to Gaza.

When I got back from Gaza, I felt better, but this feeling didn't last long. I went back to my routine and to my work at the family conflict resolution center in Nablus. After a few weeks, I started feeling sad and withdrawn, because I missed my family. I became depressed. I couldn't sleep at night and I was nervous and miserable during the day. My husband suggested that I see a doctor. The doctor said that what I was going through was normal after having been with my family for three months, and that only time can cure me. He advised me to get a change of scenery, to get out of the house more and make some changes in my life.

When I was in Gaza, I felt like a child who had gotten lost and then found her parents for a long time. After I returned to Nablus, I felt like I'd lost them again. My daughter Maryam asked me, "How come we live here when all our relatives are in Gaza? In Nablus, no one knocks on our door and we're lonely." Her question made me very sad, because it shows that she feels the same way I do.

When I was in Gaza, I saw how much having my mother and father around meant to my brothers and sisters. They helped them with everything, especially with the kids. I saw how attached the children are to my mother and father. When one of the children got sick, my parents took care of him, and when one of my sisters wanted to go shopping, she left her kids with them. These things may sound trivial, but they're really important. I'm a working mother and my children are young and need lots of attention and constant supervision. If I could turn back time, I wouldn't marry someone who lives outside Gaza. I didn't know how much I’d suffer.

Asmaa Zaghlul, 30, a married mother of three, is a resident of Nablus and works at the family conflict resolution center there. She gave her testimony, at home, to Salma a-Deb'i on 22 April 2013.