“It’s the worst feeling, to see my mother ill like this and knowing there is nothing we can do to help her. No one, no country will help her. Because she is Palestinian. From Gaza.”
This is the story of a mother from Gaza. But it is the story of all Palestinians from Gaza who are ill and need medical treatment outside, treatment which is unavailable because of the Israeli and Egyptian siege on Gaza and the winter 2008/2009 Israeli massacre of Gaza.
The Palestinian Ministry of Health reports that 356 Gaza Palestinians have died due to prohibited access to medical care. The latest deaths include a 3 year old child, Huda Qandil, who reportedly died on 14 September from cancer not treatable in Gaza. Martyred before her, a 7 year old, Dina Az-Zakzouk, who reportedly succumbed to her tumor.
An August 2009 IRIN news report cites “a July 2009 report published by the World Health Organization (WHO) in Jerusalem, Gaza doctors and nurses do not have the medical equipment to respond to the health needs of the 1.5 million people living in the Gaza Strip.
Medical equipment is often broken, lacking spare parts, or outdated. WHO attributes the dismal state of Gaza’s healthcare system to the Israeli blockade of the territory.“
The same article quotes a Palestinian whose father “is only given pain killers” for his cancer, the needed medications not available in Gaza. Later, it states that “the largest number of deaths due to the siege is among cancer patients. Radiotherapy for cancer patients is not available due to the lack of equipment, and chemotherapy is generally not available due to the lack of drugs.“
And adds: “In July, 77 out of 480 essential drugs and 140 out of 700 essential medical supplies in Gaza’s health ministry were out of stock, according to WHO.“
A May 2009 Al Jazeera report “Go back and die in Gaza” highlights the extortionist pressure enforced by Israeli authorities on Palestinians trying to exit via Israel for medical care.
“According to the Israeli organisation Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), Palestinian patients are increasingly being asked to make an impossible choice: Either to become collaborators with the Israeli intelligence apparatus – or to remain in Gaza without medical treatment.
The article said PHR had “collected dozens of testimonies of patients who were pressured to collaborate with the Israeli General Security Services.”
Among the testimonies, PHR found “‘cases where people think they have a permit and can go out, but then they are suddenly being taken to interrogation. Sometimes the patient has to wait in a room for several hours, without his family.
Then, they take him to another room for interrogation. They may ask just a couple of questions to find out if you know any Hamas members or they may suggest a deal for long term co-operation: “If you help us, we will help you. You need a treatment, we need information. We will give you a number, you call us once a week and give us information about your neighbours.’“
If you refuse, they become more blunt: “Okay, go back and die in Gaza.“
The patients are in a lose-lose situation. If they refuse to co-operate with the Israelis and are sent back, they may die because they can’t get appropriate treatment in Gaza.
If they do manage to get the permit, they will be branded as potential collaborators.
Whether you really did it or not is not so important. If people think you collaborated, your life may be at risk. In the end, everyone suspects everyone else. It’s like Orwell’s 1984.
And this is the objective – humiliation and fragmentation.
Humiliation. The policy extends from Israeli borders to the Egyptian crossing.
Dima (not her real name) is one of Samira (not her real name)’s daughters. She spoke of the Egyptian authorities’ treatment of her mother.
“They could see that she was ill. She had arrived in an ambulance, she was sitting in a wheelchair, she had the doctor’s referral papers for her kidney problems. But they treated her like subhuman. They demanded $1,400 from each of us: my mother, my sister and brother, and myself. When we weren’t able to pay, they told us we wouldn’t be crossing. They called us, and all Palestinians, dirt, worthless.”
Dima is an intelligent, well-spoken 3rd year university student. Her sister, 2 years her junior, is equally verbose and gracious.
Samira, suffering from kidney failure, needs dialysis three times a week.
“She’ll die if she doesn’t get the treatment. But each time she gets it, it takes at least 8 hours: 2 hours waiting, 4 hours for the treatment, and another 2 hours after. It seems we spend all our time in the hospital.”
Of 7 children, the 2 daughters and son are the only potential kidney donors. They know that their blood type matches their mothers, but are unable to go the next step further and test for matching kidney types. In Gaza, this testing is unavailable, the machinery non-existent.
Dima spoke of Samira’s attempt to be matched with a son living in Egypt.
“She went to Egypt and they were both tested. But he didn’t match. So she needed to return to Gaza, to resume her dialysis treatment. She waited 3 days at the Rafah crossing. The first two days, the Egyptian authorities sent her back to Al Arish, denying her passage. The third day, after waiting in the sun and collapsing on the road, she was finally allowed back into Gaza.”