‘Muting My Pain’: Israel’s ‘Psychological Warfare’ against Palestinian Prisoners’ Families

The parents of Palestinian prisoner Malik Hillis, who was arrested 15 years ago. (Photo: WANN, Supplied)

By Mahmoud Mushtaha

For the past six years, 60-year-old Hasna Zourob has been fighting a battle on two fronts. One against cancer, and the other against the Israeli occupation that has deprived her of seeing her son.

Hasna’s son, Assad Zourob, was only 21 years old when he was arrested by Israeli forces in 2002. He was sentenced to life imprisonment as a result of being accused of belonging to the Palestinian resistance. 

The detainee, who is now 42 years old, has spent half of his life behind bars and continues to be imprisoned today. 

The emotional toll on his mother is great. Due to the psychological hardship of being unable to see her son, her fragile health has been further weakened after she was diagnosed with cancer. 

“Can you imagine the detrimental effects on the mental and physical well-being of a mother and her son when they are denied from seeing each other even for just a few minutes?” Umm Assad told The Palestine Chronicle. 

“How can one fully embrace the joyous atmosphere of Ramadan and Eid when her son has been far away for 22 years?”

Since 2017, Hasna has not heard her son’s voice, held his hand, or seen him smile. Despite her illness, Hasna is still barred from seeing her son.

‘Hard to Explain’ 

Hasna’s story is one of many others.

Malik Hillis has spent 15 years in an Israeli prison since he was arrested at the age of 18 while moving from Gaza to the West Bank. 

He was detained by Israeli officers at a military checkpoint, and taken to prison on charges of belonging to the resistance.

For the family of this Palestinian detainee, the past 15 years have been marked by heartache and separation. Malik’s 75-year-old father has not seen his son since the day of his imprisonment, and his mother has also been denied the right to see her son.

“My heart is filled with pain, as I long to see my son at home. I try to mute my pain, yet my suffering cannot be ignored.” Malik’s father told The Palestine Chronicle.

The pain of deprivation is clear in Malik’s family. His mother, 70, told us that, when he was arrested, her son was still at a young age and therefore needed a mother’s tenderness. 

“It is so painful to think that he was deprived of my love at such a young age, ” she told us.

Malik’s wife and two sons, Ahmed and Tariq, were only allowed to visit him twice while he was in detention. The last visit was in 2014.

The prisoner’s son, Tariq, 15, was only allowed to visit his father once during his entire life, separated by a glass barrier. Although the visit was brief, it provided a much-needed source of support for both Tariq and his father.

Despite the difficulties, the family persisted in obtaining permission to visit Malik via the Red Cross. However, their hopes were repeatedly dashed as the Israeli occupation authorities would agree to appointments but then prevent the family from visiting upon their arrival at the crossing, causing further suffering for families. 

“The Israelis deliberately destroy our psyche and feelings. It is hard to explain, but imagine receiving a call that you have a visit to your father tomorrow. You prepare yourself and purchase gifts for him. When you reach the crossing, Israeli forces confiscate everything and then you are informed by an officer that the visit has been abruptly canceled, ” Tariq said.

“Israeli authorities deliberately target Palestinian prisoners’ families as a form of psychological warfare,” Mohammed Hillis, Malik’s brother, told us.

‘No Regard International Law’

Mohammed Abuhashem, a legal researcher at the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, noted that article (76) in Fourth Geneva Convention dictates the right for detainees and their families to receive regular visits. Therefore, prevention of such visits by the occupation constitutes a “blatant violation of legal and humanitarian standards.”

“Despite continuous and vigorous efforts made by the Red Cross and Palestinian human rights institutions to address the issue of prisoners’ families being deprived of visitation, the Israeli occupation shows no regard for international law or human rights institutions. It continues to act with impunity.” Abuhashem told The Palestine Chronicle.

According to former Palestinian prisoner Hussein Al-Zrai’i, who was denied his family’s visits for 18 years, “This is a punitive policy followed by the Israeli prison administration, which aims at oppressing Palestinian detainees and their families without any reason.”

– Mahmoud Mushtaha is a Gaza-based freelance Journalist and translator. WANN contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.

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