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January 29, 2009

What Happened to Hassan


by Ran HaCohen

Hassan, an 8-year-old Gazan boy, could consider himself lucky. Last year, thanks to his serious illness, Israel let him in to be treated in a Tel Aviv hospital. Israel boasts of its generosity: after four decades of occupation, which has left Gaza's hospitals on a Third World level, followed by years of siege, which has exhausted the little equipment and medicine arsenal those wretched hospitals had acquired, Israel grants treatment to a small number of mostly terminal Palestinian patients, provided the full cost is paid by the Palestinian National Authority. How very generous indeed.

Since every Arab is a terrorist until the opposite is proven, Israel lets at best just one adult, usually a woman, accompany a sick child into Israel. Hassan's mother could go with him. But no Palestinian vehicles are allowed in. Having crossed the checkpoint into Israel, how would the ill child and his mother make the 45 miles to Tel Aviv? Public transport is unfeasible; a taxi or an ambulance is unaffordable.

A solution is offered by a small network of volunteer drivers, Israelis who take Palestinian patients to Israeli hospitals and then back to the checkpoints in Gaza or the West Bank. Many Israelis label these people "Arab lovers" or worse. That's how friends of mine got to know Hassan and his mother, about a year ago. Hassan was diagnosed and treated in Tel Aviv on an outpatient basis and had to be driven back and forth. My friends would pick up Hassan early in the morning, take him to hospital, wait outside till he was finished, and then take him back to the checkpoint. A whole day off. But they earned new friends. Gazans, but humans.

Hassan's illness got worse and worse. Three months ago, with the hospitals in Gaza having only painkillers to offer, Hassan was permanently hospitalized in Tel Aviv. His mother stayed day and night at his bed: first, because Palestinians seem to love their children too, second, because she had to leave her ID card at the hospital, so that she could not get out anyway. She spent months around the clock in the hospital with her ill son.

The doctors recommended bone-marrow implantation. Hassan's four brothers were allowed in for one day, to check their compatibility as donors. But where would they stay the night? My friends offered them a bed. Realizing the four teenagers had never seen anything but the Gaza Strip, my friends did their best to give them a taste of life in Tel Aviv. After 24 hours they returned to Gaza; none of them could be used as donor.

The last hope was Hassan's married aunt, but her husband wouldn't let her go. When he was finally persuaded, it was too late. The war broke out.


About 80 percent of Gaza's residents are refugee families who were driven out of Israel in and after 1948. Hassan's family belongs to the small minority of original Gazan families. They own a house. After the first day of the war all the windows and doors were gone, thanks to Israel's surgical bombing. Hassan's sister was injured: a deep, bleeding cut in her leg. Her father took her to the nearby hospital, behind which dozens of corpses lay in the open air. They poked fun at her slight injury and sent her home.

A week later, the terrified father and Hassan's five siblings were pushed into a single room. The rest of their home was ruined. Yet another surgical bombing. Their text message to my friends sounded like a farewell, and not just because they had no electricity to charge their cell phone.

Meanwhile in Tel Aviv, Hassan's condition deteriorated. His mother, at her dying son's bed, followed the horrors in Gaza on the phone, fearing the Israeli bombings, which targeted cellular antennas as well, would break the little communication left with her bombed family. Her favorite doctor was taken to the army. I never met Hassan or his mother, but I could see their horror and despair, on both fronts, reflected in my friend's sleepless eyes.

In the second week of the war, Hassan, 9 years old by now, passed away. It took several hours to arrange an ambulance to take the bereaved mother and Hassan's body back to Gaza, hoping they would not be bombed there. They entered the Strip shortly before the "humanitarian pause" was over; the ambulance refused to take them home. Hassan's mother left her little luggage behind including some expensive medicines for her brother, unattainable in Gaza and paid for by my friends and walked the last mile home, carrying her dead son in her arms. Hassan was buried the same day.

Now the family could now go back to "normal." The last room left of their house had collapsed, so they moved in with relatives. Another bombing took the life of close friends of theirs, a couple with two young children. One of Hassan's uncles was injured, my friends failed to understand how seriously.

Ten days later a cease-fire was announced. Hassan's family returned to what was left of their home. Like most of their belongings, the fridge too is badly damaged, but there is little electricity anyway. Hassan's mother is physically and mentally exhausted. Her doctor tells her to rest a lot and avoid stress. Sure thing.


This is a true story, but a very unusual one. There are virtually no contacts between Israelis and Palestinians. Israel has been doing all it can to prevent such contacts: they jeopardize the national project of dehumanizing the Palestinians. We must dehumanize them, otherwise we won't be able to teach them a lesson they won't forget (experts call it "deterrence"). And we must teach them a lesson they won't forget, in order to prove that they never learn, so that yet another lesson is necessary. Someone has to keep the weapon industry running, and Israel has really tried every possible way to reach peace (except ending the occupation).

So here we are now: a bereaved family in a ruined house in Gaza and an Israeli family in Tel Aviv who have almost become one family through Hassan's illness and death. They phone each other daily, hoping to meet again soon. Will they see each other again not just soon, but ever? The answer is no. Not as long as Israel's apartheid regime is in place. Israel does not allow its civilian citizens to enter Gaza, under any circumstances whatsoever. And Gazans are not allowed to enter Israel, unless they are lucky enough to be dying.

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Dr. Ran HaCohen was born in the Netherlands in 1964 and grew up in Israel. He has a B.A. in Computer Science, an M.A. in Comparative Literature, and his PhD is in Jewish Studies. He is a university teacher in Israel. He also works as a literary translator (from German, English and Dutch), and as a literary critic for the Israeli daily Yedioth Achronoth. Mr. HaCohen's work has been published widely in Israel. "Letter from Israel" appears occasionally at Antiwar.com.

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