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War on Gaza: Israeli forces detain wife of Middle East Eye correspondent

Mohammed al-Hajjar's wife Inas Abu al-Maza was held at a checkpoint, had her money and valuables confiscated, and is unable to reunite with her family
Mohammed al-Hajjar with his family hours before his wife Inas was detained by Israeli forces (MEE/Supplied)
Mohammed al-Hajjar with his family hours before his wife Inas was detained by Israeli forces (MEE/Supplied)

Israeli forces arbitrarily detained the wife of Middle East Eye correspondent Mohammed al-Hajjar on Thursday at a military checkpoint in the central Gaza Strip, forcing the family to separate as they attempted to move south to Rafah.

Hajjar's wife Inas Abu al-Maza was later released by the army, which made her return to Gaza City and prevented her from reuniting with her family in the south.

Before Abu al-Maza was released, Israeli forces confiscated her valuables, including thousands of dollars in cash, personal gold jewellery and two phones. 

Since Israel launched its ground invasion of Gaza in late October, Israeli forces have detained hundreds of civilians from their homes or while fleeing on roads declared safe by the army. 

Some have been released after interrogation but many have been taken to undisclosed locations.

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Hajjar, who has been working with MEE for more than six years, said an Israeli soldier stopped his family at a checkpoint at the Netzarim corridor, a route Israel has created since its invasion that bisects the Gaza Strip in two.

There, Israeli troops ordered him to collect the identification cards of his immediate family members and other Palestinians who were also making their way south of Gaza City.

Hajjar said he was interrogated about everyone near him, and when the soldier checked Abu al-Maza's ID card, he asked what their relationship was. After telling the soldier that she was his wife, the soldier said: "Go give her ID to her and tell her to come. You go south".

"I thought he wanted to ask her something, so I waited outside. The soldier came back and said: ‘Go south, leave from here’," Hajjar recalled.

He said he told the soldier that he wanted to wait for his wife but he was immediately threatened at gunpoint to leave.

"'I'm telling you to leave,' the soldier told me, and about eight soldiers pointed their guns at me, took Inas, who had her hands up, and searched her," Hajjar recalled.

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"They kept telling me to leave and not look back."

Hajjar added that he then attempted to make his way south with his two young children. After walking for a lengthy period under the midday sun and without any shade, he said he had eventually dropped one of his bags out of exhaustion. 

"A military patrol came and a soldier told me to take the bag. I said I was tired and needed help. He said: 'We are not supposed to help Palestinians'."

A couple of hours later, Hajjar said the Israeli army called his wife's brother, Alaa, and told him: "Wear white clothes and carry a white flag and come surrender yourself. Only when you surrender yourself will we release your sister."

Hajjar told MEE that his wife has no affiliations with any political groups and that her father used to work in Israel. Meanwhile, her other brother works in her father's shop and neither he nor his friends are involved with any political factions. 

"I don't know what they want from her brother."

Hajjar learnt on Friday morning that Abu al-Maza was released but was told to return to Gaza City and prevented from reuniting with her family. 

The Netzarim corridor, which cuts across the Gaza Strip from east to west, has been used to prevent Palestinians from moving freely from southern to northern Gaza and works as a checkpoint to inspect people moving southwards. 

Middle East Eye has asked the Israeli military for comment.

Fears for her safety

Hajjar said his two children, eight-year-old Majd and three-year-old Majdal, constantly ask about their mother.

"The kids cry all the time, they cried the whole way, and until now, they want their mother," he said.

Palestinians detained by Israeli forces in Gaza have often been taken to detention centres that are now notorious for subjecting detainees to torture, abuses, and humiliating and degrading conditions.

In February, UN experts decried the reported conditions and abuses meted out to Palestinian women and girls in Israeli detention, including reported "deliberate targeting and extrajudicial killing".

“Some of them were reportedly holding white pieces of cloth when they were killed by the Israeli army or affiliated forces,” the experts said.

Israel launched its assault on Gaza after the Palestinian group Hamas led an attack on southern Israel on 7 October, in which around 1,140 people were killed, according to Israeli officials. At least 240 others were captured and taken to Gaza.

Israel responded with a devastating bombing campaign and ground invasion that has displaced more than 80 percent of Gaza’s population and reduced much of the territory to ruins. More than 34,500 people have been killed, according to Palestinian health officials. Some 10,000 are estimated to be missing and dead under the rubble.

In the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, Israeli forces have intensified raids since 7 October, killing hundreds of Palestinians and detaining thousands of others.

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