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Fatima al-Masri, who needlessly died at 19 months after Israel delayed her treatment. Family photo on Twitter.

A Hole In the Heart

Abby Zimet

The horrors, little-reported, persist for Palestinians trapped by Israel's brutal apartheid regime. One of its latest, smallest victims is Fatima al-Masri, who died in besieged Gaza on the morning of March 25 after waiting five months for Israel to issue a permit allowing her to travel for treatment for a ventricular septal defect, a hole in her heart, diagnosed last year. Fatima was 19 months old. Her father Jalal al-Masri said Fatima missed two medical appointments at Jerusalem’s al-Makassed Hospital in December and February while the family awaited a “review” by Israel's Coordination and Liaison Administration (CLA), which handles Palestinian travel permits. Meanwhile, she kept getting sicker. Given a years-long Israeli blockade that rights advocates say has "suffocated" Gaza's health system and left it “flat on its back" with serious shortages, very ill Palestinians must seek, and often long wait for, permits to get treatment elsewhere - a common form of what they call "bureaucratic violence" at the core of apartheid practices that have only grown worse with the pandemic. Even then, rights groups say Israel denies care in about 30% of even the most urgent cases. According to Palestinian NGO Al- Mezan Center for Human Rights, which took on Fatima’s case, at least 71 Palestinians, including 25 women and nine children, have died since 2011 following Israeli delays or denials of exit permits.

Fatima's third scheduled appointment at Al-Makassed, under Israeli law likely unaccompanied, was for April 5; she still had not received the requisite permit when she died. "After delaying access to necessary medical care for a toddler for more than five months, Israel is fully responsible for Fatima's death," said Al-Mezan in a furious statement. "This case is yet another example of Israel’s continuing violation of international humanitarian and human rights law and its obligations as an occupying power, obligations that bear greater weight when involving children." "I wish I had died as well,” said Fatima's father Jalal. "They kept saying the application was ‘under review, under review’, and then she died...Nothing breaks a person more than losing their child.” Writes advocate Ahmed Abofoul, "How this regime operates: cruelly against everything Palestinian, including children." Fatima is just one especially heart-rending Palestinian death among many, ongoing. Last week, Israeli forces killed three people in one day in the occupied West Bank: a 22-year-old shot in the head, a 16-year-old who went to his aid shot in the chest, an 18-year-old shot in the head. This year, Israel has already killed over two dozen, including five children. Still, amidst growing violence, Israeli leaders blinded by the racism of their Zionist project see only one solution: more violence. In a video, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett urges "eliminating terrorists." "What is expected of you, citizens of Israel?" he asks. "Whoever has a license to carry a weapon, this is the time to carry it.” Talk about a hole in the heart.

"Whatever is hateful to thee, do not to thy neighbor." - The Talmud


Abby Zimet

Abby Zimet

Abby Zimet has written CD's Further column since 2008. A longtime, award-winning journalist, she moved to the Maine woods in the early 70s, where she spent a dozen years building a house, hauling water and writing before moving to Portland. Having come of political age during the Vietnam War, she has long been involved in women's, labor, anti-war, social justice and refugee rights issues. Email: azimet18@gmail.com

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