5 years ago, Yahya Ahmad (28) was arrested while trying to cross the border fence to search for work in Israel. He was subsequently sentenced to 12 years of imprisonment in the Nafkha Desert Prison in Israel.

Since his imprisonment Yahya has not seen his family from Gaza. He is, however, allowed visits from his sister Khadija, who lives in Be’er Sheva, Israel. On 16 July 2012, the first organized prison visit in 5 years was allowed for 24 Gaza families.

On the fourth of these prisioner visit, Yahya’s parents, Ahmad Eslayeh (86) and Aisha Eslayeh (75), finally got their turn to travel to Israel to see their son.

En route to Erez, Aisha, unfortunately, passed away on the bus. Her husband, Ahmad, says that: “We were informed that we could see our son on the day before the visit. Aisha was very happy and she sang all night.

She was too excited to sleep. Neighbors came in to congratulate us on being allowed to see Yahya. The next morning, we did not even eat; we took a taxi at 3:30 to the Beniseila intersection and boarded the bus that was headed to Erez. I was with my wife when she died.

The bus was approaching Wadi Gaza when it happened. We drove back to the ICRC and took an ambulance to the Shifa hospital. I already knew she was dead by then. At the hospital, we were informed that she had suffered a heart attack.”

Ahmad did not get to see his son on that day. The rest of the families, however, proceeded with their visit: “The bus was full and had around 40 people. Priority for the visit was given to parents and wives, so they went on to visit their sons and husbands.

One woman later told us that the visit lasted for around 30 minutes. She also said that Yahya had been waiting for us to arrive. When other prisoners who were watching the TV saw that his mother had died, they told him what had happened.”

Yahya’s sister Khadija has been allowed to see him, but this cannot be said of the rest of the family in Gaza: “It is exceptional that I get to see my brother. I am only allowed to visit him because I live in Be’er Sheva with my family. If I were living in Gaza, I would likey not be able to visit him as I am just his sister, not a priority family member. Every time I saw him, he is clean and shaved and does not say anything negative. He did not want to me to worry about him. I would take him clothes every 3 months, but he was always in the same brown uniform when I would see him. When the prisoners went on hunger strike to protest their conditions and lack of visits, he also went on hunger strike. He became very thin and frail and I asked him why he was on hunger strike when I was allowed to see him. He said to me, ‘I just want to see my parents. They are old and I want them to be allowed to see me before they die.’ I moved back to Gaza to take care of my father after my mother died, so I haven’t visited my brother again. I don’t know when I will see my brother again.”

Ahmad admits that it was hard for him to not be allowed to visit his son: “It has been 5 years since I last saw him. It is hard to watch his friends get married. Every time I go for a wedding, I carry his picture so that I can feel as if he is there. My wife and I had dreams of making a big wedding party for him someday, but now I am old and my vision is almost gone. I even need someone to lead me when I walk. I hope that there will be another visit and that I will finally get to see my son before it is too late.”

Until the first prison visit on 16 July 2012, all prisoners from the Gaza Strip were denied their right to family visits by the Israeli authorities since 6 June 2007. These prison visits resulted from an agreement brokered by the Egyptian authorities on 14 May, between the prisoners, detainees and the Israeli authorities to end a hunger strike started by Palestinian prisoners and their families. The number of prisoner visits currently stands at 7.

The ICRC estimates that there are approximately 500 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. Of these, only 184 have been visited so far. Visits are approximately 45 minutes long and visitors are not allowed to take any items to the prisoners. Visitors are also not allowed to touch their loved ones, but only see them through glass windows.

Despite the fact that prisoner visits might now be approved, after such a long time apart they are inadequate for both the prisoner and their family.

Under Article 37 of the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, “Prisoners shall be allowed under necessary supervision to communicate with their family and reputable friends at regular intervals, both by correspondence and by receiving visits.”

This is supported by Principle 19 of the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, which states that “A detained or imprisoned person shall have the right to be visited by and to correspond with, in particular, members of his family and shall be given adequate opportunity to communicate with the outside world.”

To see a video narrative given by Ahmad Eslayeh please click here