Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 8 July 2020

Palestinian mother and son reunited in Egypt after 20 years

Amjad Yaghi finally visited his mother in Egypt this week

Palestinian journalist Amjad Yaghi was just nine years old when his mother left the Gaza Strip on what should have been a short trip to Egypt for medical treatment.

But until a joyful reunion this week, they did not see each other again for 20 years.

After leaving Gaza in 1999, Mr Yaghi's mother, Nevine Zouheir, could not return to Gaza because of spinal disc pain for which she needs surgery.

Despite 14 attempts to go to see her, Mr Yaghi was unable to get out of Gaza after militant group Hamas took control of the territory in 2007 and Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade that included travel restrictions.

Though he was invited to attend several conferences abroad, he received travel clearance only after they ended, leaving him without a valid reason to cross the border.

Mr Yaghi was finally granted a visa to enter Egypt via Jordan, and made his way to his mother's apartment in the Nile Delta town of Banha on Monday.

When she saw him from her balcony, Ms Zouheir cried out her son's name. She went to the bottom of the stairwell to embrace him and they held hands as they walked up to the apartment.

"It was very difficult, knowing you could die without having realised your dreams, without having seen your family, your mother," said Mr Yaghi, who was wounded in 2009 in armed conflict with Israel.

"In all of these situations, you need a mother. Yes, OK, I am 29 years old. But I need a mother beside me," he said. "I have relatives who are all great, but a mother is important in a country which lives under occupation."

Citing security concerns, Israel maintains tight controls on Palestinian movement in and out of Gaza, which was captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East War.

Egypt only occasionally opens a border crossing at the city of Rafah to allow certain people through, such as holders of foreign passports, students and those in need of medical treatment.

"Movement restrictions imposed on people in Gaza and a complex permit system mean that thousands of people in Gaza are unable to travel out of the Strip, even when they are in urgent need of medical care that might not be available in Gaza," said Dan Waites, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Israel and the Occupied Territories.

The ICRC says it is unable to meet the needs of all Gazans who need family reunification, but it does act in exceptional circumstances, for instance when a child has been separated from their primary care givers.

"We would like to see the severe restrictions on movement for Gazans eased," Mr Waites added.

"The restrictions imposed on movement of people and goods, aggravated by internal Palestinian differences, keep it isolated from the rest of the world and suffocate its economy. The ongoing energy crisis in Gaza impacts the most essential services, like access to clean water and wastewater treatment as well as the health care sector in its entirety.

"Giving hope to Gazan families involves easing the restrictions."

This touching story comes just weeks after the Israeli High Court heard the Israeli government had significantly lowered the number of medical treatment permits it issued to sick Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, fearing they were being used to help Gazans move to the West Bank.

Updated: December 5, 2019 07:16 PM

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