Mother hopes Gaza cancer care will ‘end our suffering’

Dr. Musa and Suhaila Nasir Department for Pediatric Cancer officially will open on Feb. 19 in Gaza. (AN photo by Hazem Balousha)
Updated 08 February 2019

Mother hopes Gaza cancer care will ‘end our suffering’

  • Israeli authorities have repeatedly refused to allow the boy’s father, Hussein, 67, to escort him on the 30 km journey from Abasan in the southern Gaza Strip

 GAZA CITY: A Palestinian woman has accused Israeli authorities of subjecting her family to “real suffering” over restrictions on escorting their 13-year-old son to hospital for cancer treatment. 

Nisreen Al-Shawaf’s son, Saddam, developed leukemia several years ago and receives treatment in Palestinian hospitals in the West Bank or Jerusalem.

Israeli authorities have repeatedly refused to allow the boy’s father, Hussein, 67, to escort him on the 30 km journey from Abasan in the southern Gaza Strip. The refusals were made on “security grounds,” according to Al-Shawaf.

“The occupation manipulates us and the life of my child,” she said.

Treatment for Saddam’s illness has not been available in the Gaza Strip, which has been under virtual siege since the Hamas takeover in mid-2007. Now Al-Shawaf is looking to a new cancer-treatment center in Gaza to improve her son’s hopes of treatment.

The Dr. Musa and Suhaila Nasir Department for Pediatric Cancer will open on Feb. 19. The center, the largest in the Palestinian Authority, is funded by the Palestine Children’s Relief Foundation, a US-based nongovernmental organization founded in 1991 that provides medical services to sick and wounded children in the Middle East.

Ranan Al-Muthaffar, the foundation’s executive vice president for operations, told Arab News that all children with cancer in Gaza are referred for treatment abroad, but in most cases were unable to travel with their loved ones because of Israeli restrictions on permits.

The $3 million pediatric department will include two 16-room accommodation centers, a 15-bed daily care room, kitchen, pharmacy and library. It will also offer school instruction to help students continue their studies. Staff will consist of a director, four doctors and 17 nurses.

Dr. Zeina Salman, a volunteer doctor with the foundation, said that the department will provide chemotherapy treatment for about half of the cancer patients in Gaza, while those who need radiation therapy will have to travel to other hospitals.

In the meantime, the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Health is forced to refer cancer patients to Palestinian hospitals in the West Bank and Jerusalem, or to Israeli hospitals, where they must pay for treatment.

Al-Shawaf said the journey Saddam must undertake for treatment — from Gaza and through the Israeli-controlled Erez crossing — represents “real suffering.” 

The trip begins with an application for an Israeli permit for the patient and his escort through the authority’s “treatment department.”

Saddam’s father, who is also suffering from cancer, accompanied his son on his first hospital visits.

“But we have been shocked by the authorities’ refusal to accept my husband as an escort for Saddam, and to set impossible conditions for granting a permit,” Al-Shawaf told Arab News.

She said her husband’s requests to escort his son had been denied four times.

Al-Shawaf said Israeli authorities had also forced her to reapply for a permit after she began accompanying Saddam.

The Israeli treatment of cancer patients, especially children, leaves families in a “whirlpool,” she said.

“They are burdened with daily anxiety about the treatment needed in Gaza and the permit
to leave the Erez crossing,” she said.

According to the ministry, 60 percent of patients’ requests for permits are rejected by Israeli authorities, and 5 percent of patients were detained in 2018.

More than 8,500 people, including 608 children, in the Gaza Strip needed treatment for cancer, the ministry said.

In a report issued on World Cancer Day on Feb. 4, the Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights said that the psychological and physical suffering of cancer patients in Gaza is compounded by a shortage of medical equipment and medicines.

The center claimed Israeli restrictions had resulted in the deaths of 45 cancer patients in the enclave from 2016 to 2018.


Enduring miseries drive exodus of Tunisian youth

Updated 18 October 2019

Enduring miseries drive exodus of Tunisian youth

  • Despite vote for change in the country, there seems to be no end of frustration among young people

SFAX/TUNISIA: It only took 10 minutes for Fakher Hmidi to slip out of his house, past the cafes where unemployed men spend their days, and reach the creek through the mud flats where a small boat would ferry him to the migrant ship heading from Tunisia to Italy.

He left late at night, and the first his parents knew of it was the panicked, crying phone call from an Italian mobile number: “The boat is sinking. We’re in danger. Ask mum to forgive me.”

Hmidi, 18, was one of several people from his Thina district of the eastern city of Sfax among the dozens still unaccounted for in this month’s capsizing off the Italian island of Lampedusa, as ever more Tunisians join the migrant trail to Europe.

His loss, and the continued desire among many young men in Thina to make the same dangerous journey, vividly demonstrate the economic frustration that also drove voters to reject Tunisia’s political elite in recent elections.

In a parliamentary vote on Oct. 6, the day before Hmidi’s boat sank just short of the Italian coast, no party won even a quarter of seats and many independents were elected instead. On Sunday, the political outsider Kais Saied was elected president.

In the Hmidis’ modest home, whose purchase was subsidized by the government and on which the family is struggling to meet the repayment schedule, his parents sit torn with grief.

“Young people here are so frustrated. There are no jobs. They have nothing to do but sit in cafes and drink coffee or buy drugs,” said Fakher’s father, Mokhtar, 55.

Mokhtar lost his job as a driver two years ago and has not been able to find work since. Fakher’s mother, Zakia, sells brik, a fried Tunisian egg snack, to bring in a little extra money. His two elder sisters, Sondes, 29, and Nahed, 24, work in a clothes shop.

Much of the little they had went to Fakher, the family said, because they knew he was tempted by the idea of going to Europe. At night the family would sit on their roof and see the smuggler boats setting off. The seashore was “like a bus station,” they said.

 

Decline

At a cafe near the Hmidis’ home, a few dozen mostly young men sat at tables, drinking strong coffee and smoking cigarettes.

Mongi Krim, 27, said he would take the next boat to Europe if he could find enough money to pay for the trip even though, he said, he has lost friends at sea.

A survey by the Arab Barometer, a research network, said a third of all Tunisians, and more than half of young people, were considering emigrating, up by 50 percent since the 2011 revolution.

The aid agency Mercy Corps said last year that a new surge of migration from Tunisia began in 2017, a time when the economy was dipping.

Krim is unemployed but occasionally finds a day or week of work as a casual laborer. He points at the potholes on the road and says even town infrastructure has declined.

For this and the lack of jobs, he blames the government. He did not vote in either the parliamentary or the presidential election. “Why would I? It is all the same. There is no change,” he said.

Unemployment is higher among young people than anyone else in Tunisia. In the first round of the presidential election on Sept. 15, and in the parliamentary election, in which voter turnout was low, they also abstained by the highest margin.

When an apparently anti-establishment candidate, Kais Saied, went through to the second round of the presidential election on Sunday, young people backed him overwhelmingly.

But their support for a candidate touting a clear break from normal post-revolutionary politics only underscored their frustration at the direction Tunisia took under past leaders.

At the table next to Krim, Haddaj Fethi, 32, showed the inky finger that proved he had voted on Sunday. “I cannot imagine a young man who would not have voted for Saied,” he said.

On the bare patch of mud by the creek where Fakher Hmidi took the boat, some boys were playing. For them, the migration to Europe is — as it was for Hmidi — a constant background possibility in a country that offers them few other paths.

SPEEDREAD

The continued desire among many young men in Thina to make the dangerous journey, vividly demonstrate the economic frustration that also drove voters to reject Tunisia’s political elite in recent elections.

At the time of Tunisia’s 2011 revolution, they had great hope, Mohkhtar Hmidi said. But economically, things got worse. Fakher found little hope in politics, he said.

Despite the apparent surge of young support for Saied as president, he has been careful to make no promises about what Tunisia’s future holds, only to pledge his personal probity and insist that he will rigidly uphold the law.

The economy is in any case not the president’s responsibility, but that of a government formed by parties in the Parliament, whose fractured nature will make coalition building particularly difficult this year.

Any government that does emerge will face the same dilemmas as its predecessors — tackling high unemployment, high inflation, a lower dinar and the competing demands of powerful unions and foreign lenders.

An improvement would come too late for the Hmidi family, still waiting nearly two weeks later for confirmation that their only son has drowned.

“Fakher told me he wanted to go to France. ‘This is my dream,’ he said to me. ‘There is no future here. You can’t find a job. How can I?’,” Mokhtar said, and his wife started to cry.