Mohammad Dweekat has been living since 2007 with his mother and two sisters in an old rented house in Rafah, a city in the south of the Gaza Strip. The 21 year old has no income as neither he nor his mother or sisters have jobs.
The family home is in the West Bank refugee camp of Tulkarem, where Mohammad's father lives, but in 2007, his mother took Mohammad and his sisters to visit her family and relatives in the Gaza Strip, where she is from. She entered the besieged enclave through the Erez Crossing and arrived in Rafah safely.
After spending their holiday in Gaza, where he was able to go swimming in the sea, Mohammed, his mother and his two sisters packed their bags and headed back to Erez where, after passing through the checkpoint, they expected to take a taxi back home to Tulkarem. They were shocked, however, when an Israeli officer told them that they weren't allowed to leave the coastal enclave.
"We were happy that everything went well during our stay in Gaza," Um Mohammed told MEMO. "We enjoyed happy times with our relatives and old friends, but the Israeli restrictions turned that happiness into grief and sorrow."
At the Erez Crossing, Um Mohammad could do nothing but beg the Israeli official to let her and her children through to go back home. He refused, and asked police officers to remove them from his office.
"We had no choice but to go back to Rafah," she explained. "That's when we started to contact Palestinian Authority officials to ask for help."
Meanwhile, their relatives in the West Bank contacted the PA Minister of Civil Affairs, Hussein Al-Sheikh, who was responsible for coordinating the passage of Palestinians from place to place through the Israeli crossings. "But he did nothing."
Um Mohammed applied for travel permits several times so that she could be reunited with her husband, and her children could be reunited with their father. On each occasion the applications were refused by the Israelis.
This is not a unique situation. According to Al-Mezan Centre for Human Rights, there are thousands of cases similar to Um Mohammed's. She and many others are stuck in Gaza and prevented from getting back to the West Bank, while just as many people or more are in the West Bank and unable to be reunited with their loved ones in the Gaza Strip.
The pressure of this enforced separation led to Um Mohammed and her husband divorcing. She has stayed in Gaza ever since to look after her children. She asks herself what she has done to deserve being separated from her husband, and for her children to be separated from their father.
She maintains good relations with her ex-husband. "I wish that I was not separated from him," she said. "My children stay in touch with him via Zoom and WhatsApp, but it's no substitute for personal contact."
Mohammed pointed out the he and his sisters are getting older without being able to hug and kiss their father. "We haven't hugged him for almost 15 years. It's a bitter life. We can't bear it."
Mirvat Al-Nahhal from Al-Mizan Centre pointed out that the family is a victim of Israel's "violation of basic human rights," including the right to freedom of movement and freedom to choose a place of residence.
Life goes on for Um Mohammed, but it is difficult. "Deciding to resettle in Gaza was not easy. Even though my husband and I divorced, he still sends us money on an irregular basis. It helps, but it doesn't even cover the rent." To pay for that and other living costs, she has to try to get money from wherever she can. Friends and relatives help as much as possible.
Mohammed has been unable to go to university because of the lack of money. Friends are also helping to try to get him and his mother and sisters back to the West Bank. His life in Gaza, he insisted, has become "unbearable".
He was advised to apply for a travel permit when there is a family celebration to attend, which might be acceptable to the Israelis. He did as was suggested, but was still not allowed to travel through Erez to attend his sister's wedding.
"I am living in Gaza with half a family, no house and no job because of the inexplicable Israeli restrictions. Why can't local, Israeli, regional and international rights groups and anyone else interested in human rights help us to go home to Tulkarem so that we can be reunited with my father?"
Although a PA official refused to answer my question about Mohammed's case specifically, I was told that the authority "makes every effort" to help the many cases still outstanding with the Israelis. After a forced separation of almost 15 years, it beggars belief that this family are still unable to return to their home in the occupied West Bank.