Israeli authorities deny chronically ill Palestinian children from Gaza access to health care

Jul 03, 2024
12-year-old Karam and his grandmother traveled to the occupied West Bank to receive specialized health care on October 5, 2023, but after October 7, Israeli authorities revoked their permits to receive care at Jerusalem hospitals. (Photo: DCIP)

Ramallah, July 3, 2024—Israeli authorities are systematically denying Palestinian children from the Gaza Strip access to medical treatment, exacerbating chronic health conditions and separating them from their families as part of Israel’s campaign of genocide against the Palestinian people.

Many Palestinian children from the occupied Palestinian territory resort to obtaining medical referrals for treatment in Jerusalem hospitals due to the weak health system for chronic diseases in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, which contributes to inadequate treatment for children.

Children with chronic diseases face significant challenges in accessing proper treatment in the Gaza Strip. Since Israeli authorities closed and isolated the Gaza Strip in 2007, Palestinian children have been living under continuous siege and frequent Israeli military offensives. Those with chronic illness bear even more acutely the impact of Israel’s ongoing 17-year closure of the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian children from Gaza who were receiving treatment in Jerusalem hospitals were expelled from Jerusalem by Israeli authorities and transported to different cities in the occupied West Bank after October 7. Some were relocated to places like the village of Al-Eizariya, where 10 children and 37 women are now housed together in a small apartment of approximately 150 square meters.

Defense for Children International - Palestine collected testimonies from children suffering from chronic diseases who had sought health treatment at Jerusalem hospitals prior to October 7. These children, along with their families and caregivers, were transported to a hotel in Ramallah after October 7. 

“I need to undergo surgery that will improve my health”

“I arrived here in Ramallah with my grandmother on October 5 last year,” Karam Abu Shaqfeh from Jabalia refugee camp, north of Gaza City, told DCIP. “I was supposed to go to Al-Makassed hospital in Jerusalem on the morning of October 8 for medical examinations ahead of a surgery related to my illness.” 

12-year-old Karam suffers from kyphoscoliosis of the cervical and dorsal spine and elevation of both shoulders. He has been diagnosed with cleidocranial syndrome and needs surgery to fix his spine in order to release both scapula. “I need to undergo surgery that will improve my health so I can live like other children, free from pain and challenges,” Karam said. 

“Sometimes he can wear his clothes, but he can't tie his boots,” Karam’s grandmother, Fatima, said. “He has difficulty sleeping at night and requires a specific sleeping position to rest. Sleeping on his back causes him significant pain.”

Karam’s mother and two sisters, Hala and Mecca, were killed in an Israeli airstrike on Gaza City on February 14.

Mecca, left, and Hala, right, were killed in an Israeli airstrike on Gaza City. (Photo: Courtesy of the Abu Shaqfeh family)

“I cried when I found out my mother and sisters were killed, and every night I cried for my loss. I miss my sisters so much,” Karam said. “My father and brother are displaced in Rafah now and I always call them to make sure they are fine.”

Karam and his grandmother are not allowed to return to Gaza and reunite with their family, nor are they permitted access to health care in Jerusalem, but Karam hopes to undergo the surgery abroad.

“The surgery was canceled”

“My daughters have no sensation in their limbs, especially their hands. They have no fingers due to disease-related atrophy and skin peeling on their hands.” Neda T., mother of Malak and Etaf told DCIP. “They must always keep their hands covered [with gauze], especially Etaf, as she injures herself from peeling the skin without feeling any pain.”

12-year-old Malak and eight-year-old Etaf came to Al-Makassed hospital at the end of August 2023 from Rafah, seeking medication. Malak and Etaf suffer from congenital insensitivity to pain and anhidrosis (CIPA), which is referred to as hereditary sensory and autonomic neuropathy type IV disorder (HSAN-IV).

“Etaf can’t speak and express her needs. She can’t eat everything because she has a congenital problem swallowing food and only feeds on liquids,” Neda continued. “And she was supposed to have a surgery for her throat so that she could eat better, but due to the current events, the surgery was canceled.”

“Medical tests are at the expense of the parents, and they cost us a lot. We do not have enough money to cover the tests for my both daughters,” Neda said. “Etaf needs a very expensive antibiotic, which costs about 200 shekels, and she must take it continuously.”

“Malak has less impairment than her sister. She goes to school here in Ramallah, and she is happy to be in school. She is popular at her school, but sometimes she feels sad because she is unable to write.”

“I traveled to Jerusalem with my family in search of medical assistance. I hope to find a cure for my health issue,” Malak told DCIP. “I dream of having artificial hands so I can write like other children, graduate from school, and study Arabic language at university.” 

“We moved to live in Rahat city and work in farms there to gain some money for the medicine and medical test for the girls,” Neda said. “On October 7, we heard from the residents of the city that the Israeli [authorities] are forcing Palestinian workers to leave immediately, so we moved to Ramallah.” 

Israeli and Palestinian officials staff District Coordination and Liaison Offices throughout the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip to coordinate the movement of Palestinians in and out of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip are required to apply at a coordination office to obtain permits to enter Israel, which is necessary to travel to the West Bank. However, the coordination for such movements has been halted since October 7. 

“I'm at a loss about what my child is going through”

“In the past three years, Noura has suddenly become very tired, and now I'm at a loss about what my child is going through and what treatment she needs,” the father of Noura* told DCIP. “And most of the time, her blood level drops significantly from 10 to 4.” 

13-year-old Noura suffers from blood cancer, anemia, hypokalemia and hepatosplenomegaly and was transferred from Al-Rantisi Hospital in Gaza City to receive the proper medical attention in Hclinic Specialty hospital in Ramallah in August 2023. 

“She is experiencing severe blood loss and an enlarged liver,” her father said. “We traveled to Ramallah to do medical tests and get medications for her condition until she can be referred for treatment at Hadassah Hospital and Tel Hashomer Hospital.”

“She is struggling with psychological distress, and frequently tells me that she wants to return to Gaza," Noura’s father continued. “My wife and the rest of my children are displaced at Al-Zaytoun School in Gaza City.”

“I came to Ramallah for treatment, but the services here are not suitable for my health condition. I want to return to Gaza to see my mother and siblings,” Noura told DCIP. “I attend a school here in Ramallah. I like to go to school and my favorite subject is the Arabic language. My dream is to become a lawyer when I grow up so I can protect the children of Gaza.”

According to DCIP’s partners, two Palestinian children from Gaza, both under five, died after being transferred from Jerusalem hospitals to the occupied West Bank. The occupied West Bank lacks health competence for chronic diseases, and this may put more children at health risk in the future.

Israel controls the Gaza Strip by land, air, and sea, preventing or severely limiting necessary resources from reaching two million Palestinians trapped in Gaza, of which 47 percent are children. Israel’s military-imposed closure has resulted in an acute, human-made humanitarian crisis. Chronic unemployment, fuel and water shortages, and extreme poverty are all exacerbated by frequent Israeli military offensives, and the repeated obliteration of Gaza’s fragile infrastructure, which cannot provide sufficient healthcare, education, and other services to Palestinian children.

As a state party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Israel has obligated itself to recognize children’s right “to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health and to facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health,” as laid out in Article 24. Israeli authorities’ practice of obstructing access to urgent health services for Palestinian children violates international humanitarian law and international human rights law.

In March 2024, following the outbreak of genocide, the Israeli defense ministry body that governs civilian affairs in the occupied Palestinian territories (COGAT), requested hospital officials in Jerusalem to provide a list of Palestinian patients from Gaza in preparation to be returned to Gaza.

As a result of this request, a group of 22 patients from Gaza, including five newborn babies and many cancer patients, were put at risk for deportation. The decision was suspended following a petition filed by humanitarian organizations. The deportation order took effect on May 29, and the patients were given until June 19 to submit their requests to stay. Patients are now waiting for a decision.

Over the course of the past eight months, the assault on Gaza by Israeli ground and air forces has resulted in the deaths of more than 15,880 children, according to the Governmental Media Office. 

Around 3,500 children with chronic diseases are at risk of death due to malnutrition and lack of necessary medical care, according to the same office. Hospitals in Gaza are overwhelmed with the injured and, themselves the targets of military strikes, have been left unable to treat the growing number of wounded. 

*Noura is a pseudonym. Her name is known to DCIP but not disclosed in order to protect her privacy.

News | Right to a Childhood
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