Life under Siege: Stolen Childhood

PCHR/ Gaza/

“My dream was to have a normal childhood and to live in freedom, prosperity and good health”, Hani Bassam Qdieh emphasizes as he starts talking about his life.

Hani is a 21-years old KhanYunis resident and the oldest of his brothers and sisters. He started suffering at the age of 5 when he was diagnosed with cancer in the respiratory system and otitis medium. As the medical facilities in the Gaza Strip cannot accommodate the advanced treatment that his condition requires, his case was transferred to Assuta hospital in Tel Aviv in 2016. Until now, his exit permit for medical treatment has been rejected by the occupying power for security reasons.

Hani received both chemotherapy and radiology in Hadasa hospital in Jerusalem in 2005, as a result of which damage occurred in his right facial nerve, which he suffers from until the present day. “I had a very hard time growing up with my condition and as a young child I blamed my parents for not treating me like other children. I had difficulties with speaking and also my sight was affected, so I grew up isolated as I could not socialize with other kids”, Hani describes how his medical condition affected his childhood.

Approximately one year ago, the doctors decided that Hani should do an atomic scan of the tumor area before a big surgery in order to determine how spread the tumor is and plan the surgery and treatment accordingly. “The doctors told me that I need ongoing medical follow up and a surgery in a specialized hospital on the seventh nerve on my face where the tumor is located”, Hani explains.  Due to the unavailability of this treatment in the Gaza Strip and West Bank hospitals, Hani’s case was transferred to Assuta hospital in Tel Aviv. The doctors scheduled seven appointments between 15 August 2016 and 27 February 2017 and the family has relentlessly been trying to get exit permits for their son’s medical treatment from the Israeli authorities.

On 25 September 2016, Hani was summoned by the Israeli security services and interrogated for hours. The Israeli officer questioned him about his disease and medical condition and also about his family members and people living in his neighborhood. Hani was finally asked to request another appeal and promised that his chances of approval were very high. On 26 September 2016, Hani requested an appeal according to the rules of the Israeli office of civil affairs to travel for treatment. Two weeks later the patient received the news that his case was under scrutiny.

At the end of October, Hani sent a new appeal to the general authority of civil affairs with the aim of travelling in the end of November. Following yet another rejection, the family tried again and sent a travel request on 5 December with the aim of travelling two weeks later. “I applied 14 times to get a permit and every single time it was rejected, my case was held under scrutiny or I was questioned for hours by the Israeli intelligence,” Hani stresses.

PCHR submitted two appeals in October and November 2016, emphasizing that Hani has not committed any violations of law that would explain a delay of travel or revoke of his medical treatment. Even though Hani is a cancer patient in a severe medical condition, both appeals were rejected by the occupying power. If his travel gets delayed further, his medical condition will deteriorate. “Whenever the date of travel comes closer, I become very anxious and pray to god that I can leave. Every time I get a rejection I get more disappointed”, Hani describes.

The last time Hani applied for a permit from the Israeli authorities through the general authority of civil affairs in Gaza, on 27 February 2017, he received the response that his application was under study. This was after he was interrogated by the Israeli intelligence at Erez crossing in January 2017 and, again, informed that there was no issue with him travelling and asked to simply apply for a new permit. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approval rates for exit permits from Gaza dropped as low as 44% in October 2016, compared with 82% in 2014 and 93% in 2012.

“My only wish is to get treatment in another country and finally get better, but I don’t even have enough money to cross Rafah”, Hani explains. “Our only dream is for our son to live a normal life, to be treated like everyone else, to be able to study and get married. When the doctors told us that he can be cured, we were so relieved but the closure is destroying all his chances to get better”, Hani’s father emphasize.

The Israeli closure is depriving the Gaza population of their right to enjoy the highest attainable health standards by prohibiting patients to travel abroad for medical treatment. According to PCHR records more than 10,000 civilians were affected by this in 2016 only. This is in addition to the decline in medicine and medical equipment in Gaza as a result of the siege, which prevents patients from acquiring appropriate treatment within the Gaza Strip. The PCHR relentlessly fights for patient’s exit permits for medical treatment abroad to enable civilians to gain access to the highest attainable standard of health, which is considered a fundamental right of every human being.