Gaza: No Rights, Little Mercy

GAZA CITY - Seventy-six-year-old Mustapha al-Jamal goes door to door, looking for help in finding medicines for his son.

At home, the 53-year-old son Yahya al-Jamal lies back, staring at the ceiling. By his side, an oxygen cylinder keeps him going for now.

"My son's condition continues to worsen," Mustapha says. "We've been waiting two months for the medicines."

Last year Mustapaha's 44-year-old daughter, a mother of six, died of breast cancer. She had been recovering, but the Israeli siege blocked supply of medicines, and no one could then save her.

Mustapha sees the same happening again. Yahya's cancer started in his kidney, spread to his right lung, and now affects his liver.

Twice, on Jul. 20 and Oct. 2 last year, Yahya was allowed passage to Sourasky Medical Centre in Tel Aviv. On the second visit the hospital agreed to give the family 28 tablets worth 35,500 shekels (9,000 dollars).

Transfer to an Israeli hospital now could give Yahya medication and hope again, but Israeli officials have refused passage for medical care, citing the oxygen cylinder as a 'security risk'.

The medicines given to Yahya earlier were no donation; Israel deducts the cost of medicines for Palestinian patients treated in Israeli hospitals from the taxes it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Israel retains rather than disburses the bulk of such payments. The PA continues to pay for medication whenever possible.

Now that Israel has declared Gaza a 'hostile entity', it shut its borders, preventing travel from Gaza to hospitals in Israel, Jordan, Egypt and the West Bank (the west bank of Jordan river, the Palestinian area under Israeli occupation since 1967).

Israel has closed its borders because Gaza elected a Hamas party government, which does not recognise Israel.

Efforts by the international community and by thousands of people inside Israel forced allocation of a few medical shipments. But the chaos caused by the ongoing siege means distribution is poor.

Palestinian ministry of health spokesman Khaled Radi has confirmed that "72 people have died as a result of medicine shortages and not being permitted access to medical care." Among them are women, elderly people and children.

Radi has called for immediate international action to pressure Israel to allow necessary medical care to reach patients in Gaza.

"If proper medication was available, Jamal's case would not be as bad as it is now," says Dr. Iman Abu Ouan, one of the doctors treating him.

Dr. Quan says the hospital in Gaza where she has been treating Jamal has two radiology rooms for up to five cancer patients. That is simply not enough. And lack of beds forces patients to recover from treatment lying on the floor, with blankets from their own homes, she said. Others in need of care are asked to leave. This means essential care is often not possible.

Israeli officials have often tried to extract security commitments in exchange for access to medical care.

"In several cases known to us, people with security clearance, and carrying exit permits, were called to interrogation by the Israeli secret service (GSS, Shabak) at Erez Crossing, and asked to give information on suspects as a condition for accessing care," Miri Weingarten, Israeli spokeswoman for the group Physicians for Human Rights told IPS. "If they failed to provide the information they were turned back to Gaza and told they would not receive permits again."

Weingarten has records of many such cases. "This deliberate withholding of medical care for non-medical reasons is completely unjustifiable and could represent cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment under the UN Convention Against Torture," she said. But Mustapha still waits, and looks for help. "We don't seek more than our right," the grief-stricken father says. "For God's sake, help us get to the hospital in Tel Aviv. My son deserves to survive. All I ask is a bit of mercy."

(c) 2008 Inter Press Service

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