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.
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.