Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

"I Want to Live": Israeli Authorities Deny Dying Young Cancer Patient Access to Care

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

"I Want to Live": Israeli Authorities Deny Dying Young Cancer Patient Access to Care

Article excerpt

Frail, a mere ghost of a youth, 20-year-old Mahmoud Abu Taha lay listlessly in a Gaza hospital room, nurses helpless to assist. The strain of his illness and uncertain future was etched on the faces of his family members who surrounded his bed.

Diagnosed with colon cancer earlier this year, the young man's life had been taken over by the disease. Merely raising his head or speaking required all his energy. "It hurts," he whispered when asked how he's doing. "I feel pain in every part of my body."

Having lost one-third of his body weight in the months since his diagnosis, Abu Taha was unable to walk or stand. The lack of vitamins, essential nutrients and medications in Gaza due to the closure of its borders meant that even the most basic treatments are unavailable to him. In August doctors discovered that the cancer had spread to his small intestines.

The U.S.- and EU-backed and Israeli-enforced siege of Gaza continues to devastate the healthcare system, depriving hospitals and clinics of medications, supplies and equipment-not to mention the absence of basic necessities such as food, water and electricity, denied to all Gazans. Those who require medical care must seek treatment in Egypt, Jordan or Israel, with Israel being the closest. Regardless of their destination, however, all must overcome one major obstacle: permission from Israel to leave Gaza.

The first attempt by aid workers, physicians, and Abu Taha's friends and family members to secure papers for the chronically ill youth failed because, according to an Israeli army official, he had been deemed a "security risk." Two subsequent attempts also failed, with no explanation given.

Of course, the denial of passage for critically ill Palestinians represents the norm rather than the exception to Israeli control of Gaza's borders. According to a coordinator with the Palestinian Ministry of Health, six such patients currently are awaiting Israeli permission to leave Gaza for medical treatment. Most have cancer or require heart surgery, but one is a young girl whose neck was broken in a car accident. She has been denied passage to a hospital with a trauma unit.

"At least three patients denied exit permits have died since June," a spokesperson for Human Rights Watch noted, "and others have lost limbs or sight."

But Abu Taha's family refused to give up. A fourth attempt finally yielded the necessary papers and permits from the Israeli Army Coordination and Liaison Administration at Erez Crossing to transfer the teen to Tel HaShomer hospital in Tel Aviv-a mere hour's drive away. …

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