Babies vs. Cats: The Battle for Lifesaving Permits in Gaza

Yousif al-Agha.

The dystopian reality of the Gaza Strip continues to wreak havoc on nearly two million Palestinians living in the besieged territory. In the latest display, babies and cats no longer bear the friendly and “cute” image you see online. Instead, they are locked in a battle neither can lose because losing could mean death.

Left: Mus’ab al-Ara’eer. Right: Sonya, the housecat.

This week, Sonya, a housecat whose Ukrainian owner lives and works in Gaza, won the battle for a medical permit against Mus’ab al-Ara’eer, Bara Raban, and Yousif al-Agha. Mus’ab and Bara were one week-old infants born with heart defects. Yousif was a two years old toddler suffering from hemolytic anemia. Mus’ab died on Monday, Bara followed suit on Tuesday, and Yousif joined them on Wednesday. Sonya is receiving treatment for a broken jaw at an Israeli veterinary hospital.

The housecat secured Palestinian and Israeli approval for the permit within only three days, said Tala’at al-Talouli, who was involved in processing Sonya’s medical referral and transfer request. Meanwhile, Palestinians suffering from life-threatening conditions are left alone to navigate an apartheid system fraught with delays, as well as a dizzying maze of pity politics between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.

The ten years-long blockade of Gaza, imposed by Israel and Egypt, has led to a severe shortage in medical supplies. Crucially, the blockade’s impact on access to fuel has also crippled the ability of hospitals to provide essential care. The crisis has worsened since the Palestinian Authority decided in April it will no longer finance Gaza’s electric supply, causing Israel to cut the region’s electricity by up to 70 percent, which has left Gazans with an average of three hours of electricity per day.

Gaza hospitals have since been operating at a minimal capacity, halting critical services at five hemodialysis centers, 11 obstetric departments, and several emergency departments that support approximately 4,000 patients per day.

These difficult circumstances have compelled thousands of Gaza’s patients to seek medical care abroad. To do that, a patient must first secure a referral and a financial commitment from the Palestinian Ministry of Health, which can be achieved once the patient’s case has been reviewed and approved by a medical board, depending in most instances on its severity and whether Gaza’s hospitals are equipped to handle it. The referral is then passed along to the Israeli side for security clearance and ensuring passage through the Israeli-Palestinian Erez checkpoint at the northern end of the Gaza Strip, which has become the sole exit and entry point for many Palestinians following the prolonged closures of the Egyptian-Palestinian Rafah crossing at the opposite end of the Strip.

The process is often lengthy and uncertain.

The latest report by the World Health Organization, which monitors health access in the Gaza Strip, indicates that in April of this year there were 1,980 applications for patient permits to cross Erez. Of those, Israel only approved 979 patients to travel to Palestinian, Israeli, or Jordanian hospitals; 62 were denied, 776 were delayed, and 37 were told to come for a security interview. For many patients, this was not their first attempt to request a permit, as they had previously been either delayed or denied. The remaining patients never received an update.

No one is safe.

According to the report, three patients died while waiting for approval of permits in April.

One of them was Aya Abu Metleq who suffered from cerebral palsy. In December 2016, doctors suspected a metabolic disorder and requested a referral. She was initially scheduled to go to a Jerusalem hospital in February 2017, but her application was delayed, and once again a month later. Her family scheduled a third appointment for April 27, 2017, but the five year old’s health began to deteriorate rapidly. On April 17 Aya stopped breathing and doctors were unable to resuscitate her.

Palestinians expressed their outrage on social media using the hashtag #SaveGazaChildren. Many users blamed the Palestinian Authority, a view reiterated by Hamas officials. Palestinian Authority officials insisted that the delays and denials are Israel’s responsibility.

Left unsaid is whether these babies posed a greater threat than Sonya the housecat.

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About Dorgham Abusalim 38 Articles
Dorgham Abusalim was formerly the Online Content Editor at the Institute for Palestine Studies. He earned his Master's degree in International Affairs from the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland.

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