Sick Gazans cry out for treatment on Israel’s doorstep

Mustafa Hillu writhes underneath blankets, the pain pulsing outward from the cancer in his right leg, and he cries out for someone to persuade Israel to let him in for treatment.

If the 36-year-old father of five is not granted entry soon doctors will have to amputate his leg at the groin to prevent the cancer in his femur from spreading, according to his family and an Israeli rights group.

”The security services said they would not let him pass for security reasons. But he can’t even walk. He has cancer … we have to carry him to the bathroom,” his brother Marwan says.

Mustafa clutches an official security permit that should allow him to have a femur transplant at an Israeli hospital, and he also has documents from a hospital in Tel Aviv confirming that he had an appointment on December 9.

But like dozens of seriously ill Palestinians he is confined to the Gaza Strip, itself a sick and mangled limb of the decades-old Middle East conflict.

In October Israel declared Gaza a ”hostile entity” and tightened already severe restrictions on movement four months after the Islamist Hamas movement — pledged to the destruction of the Jewish state — took armed control.

The new clampdowns on everything from cool drinks to diesel fuel are aimed at curbing the near daily barrage of homemade rockets launched by Palestinian militants at nearby Israeli towns and fields.

But human rights groups, including Physicians for Human Rights-Israel which is assisting with Hillu’s case, accuse Israel of refusing to admit a growing number of seriously ill patients who require treatment in its hospitals.

”I have cancer. They know I have cancer. It is not a broken bone, it is a deadly disease,” Mustafa cries, reaching for more pills. He takes around 150g of morphine a day and tranquillisers so he can sleep at night.

‘Just let me go and receive treatment and come back’

”Just let me in. Assign a security guard to me. Assign 10 security guards to me, just let me go and receive treatment and come back,” he says, tears trickling onto the pillow as his wide-eyed children look on aghast.

This month the World Health Organisation expressed outrage at Gaza’s deepening isolation and accused Israel of putting lives in danger by not allowing dozens of patients to leave for treatment.

The WHO says that 23% of requests in October for treatment in Israel were refused, compared with 17% in September and 10% in June, when Hamas seized control of Gaza from the secular Fatah movement loyal to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

Israeli aid workers have also criticised the restrictions, with Physicians for Human Rights-Israel documenting 17 cases in which patients have died as a result. The Palestinian health ministry puts the number at 23.

But the Israeli military rejects such statistics, saying it has denied only a small minority of requests because the patients pose a ”security risk,” and insisting that on average 50 medical cases from Gaza are allowed in each day.

”For the life-saving cases, we are making coordination every day of every week, even under the security threat of a rain of mortar rockets,” says Colonel Nir Press, head of Israel’s coordination and liaison office for Gaza.

”Unfortunately the Palestinians use the critical cases, the tragic cases, to blame the Israeli side.”

Press says the only time security considerations prevent emergency cases from receiving treatment is during rocket and mortar attacks on the crossing, of which there have been more than 130 since Hamas took power.

He also blames Hamas-led forces for not coordinating evacuations with the Israeli authorities.

But Ahmed Massud, a 20-year-old college student from the swollen refugee camp of Jabaliya, was turned back last month by Israeli security services after an interrogation at the Erez crossing.

He has been confined to his bed for the past six months and currently weighs about 38kg after losing nearly a third of his body weight.

”I go to the bathroom 20 times a day. There is always blood, and afterwards I am not strong enough to walk,” he says in a raspy high-pitched voice.

Massud suffers from an unusual stomach disorder that may be cancerous. It is hard to say exactly what is wrong with him because the three doctors who examined him in Gaza all gave different prognoses.

They agree only that he needs urgent treatment abroad.

But after half an hour’s interrogation on November 20 Massud was sent home, despite already having obtained permission to leave.

It is unclear why Israel rejected him, but Physicians for Human Rights-Israel says it has documented at least 23 instances of patients being turned back for security reasons since October, with new cases being recorded almost every day.

Mohammed al-Attar was also denied entry. Like five of his siblings and his daughter, he suffers from a rare genetic disorder that blinded him in one eye when he was seven and is now slowly destroying the other.

Israel recently gave Attar permission to go to Egypt for a cornea transplant, but doctors there told him they cannot perform the procedure.

”If I don’t receive the treatment I will go blind. I don’t know when. It could be months or weeks,” he says, sitting back in a plastic chair in the flyblown courtyard he shares with his poor, bespectacled family.

His left eye is milky white, his right a blurred brown smudge. He cannot see farther than a metre and finds it grimly comical that Israel considers him a security threat.

”We cannot see anything,” he says. ”How are we supposed to fire rockets?” – AFP



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