Palestinian Baby Dies, Unable to Enter Israel

An explosion caused by Israeli airstrikes is seen from a Hamas-affiliated insurance company in Gaza City last year. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

JERUSALEM (AFP) — Omar Yaghi was 8 months old when he died, unable to travel from Gaza to Israel for life-saving heart surgery after Palestinian officials cut coordination with the Jewish state.

The baby’s mother Raneen has been unable to speak or eat since losing her son last week, his uncle Mohammed Yaghi told Agence France-Presse.

They are one of a number of families caught up in a high-level dispute, after the Palestinian Authority ended security coordination with Israel in May due to its plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank.

The move has had a dramatic impact on scores of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, who need Israeli paperwork to get treatment not available at home. 

“Omar was supposed to undergo major surgery on May 24, but they told us that our travel to Israel was prevented because coordination was stopped,” the infant’s uncle said.

Several human rights organizations lobbied successfully for a new date for the operation, but Yaghi died on June 18 just three days before the planned surgery.

Gaza’s 2 million residents have lived under a crippling Israeli blockade since 2007, with Palestinians having to apply for exit permits to leave the enclave.

Israel’s military branch responsible for civilian affairs in Palestinian territories, COGAT, said the Erez crossing with Gaza is “ready and well prepared” to facilitate transfers.

COGAT “keeps allowing, also at these times, an entrance of residents from the Gaza Strip for life-saving medical treatment and in other humanitarian cases,” a spokesperson said in an English statement.

Omar was born with complex heart problems and he started treatment at Israel’s Sheba Medical Center when he was 1 month old. 

Having been unable to return for the surgery, Yaghi suffered heart failure on Wednesday and was resuscitated at a Gaza hospital.

“They told us that the situation was very serious,” said Mohammed Yaghi, who tried desperately to arrange an emergency transfer to Israel while his nephew was put on a ventilator. But “at 10 a.m. the hospital management called and told us he had died.”

The boy’s father, also named Omar, found out his son had died while he was on the way to hospital.

“My brother was completely destroyed, especially when he received the child’s body,” Mohammed Yaghi said.

Physicians for Human Rights Israel said the baby died because of the surgery delay, which was caused by the Palestinian Authority’s Civil Affairs Committee ending its coordination with Israel.

“Patients have described how the Palestinian agencies in charge of coordinating their travel with the Israeli authorities stopped transferring their application for exit permits on medical grounds,” said the organization, which had helped get a new operation date.

Haitham al-Hadra from the Palestinian health ministry, who is in charge of medical transfers, said he remained “categorically” committed to the Palestinian Authority’s decision to stop working with the Israelis.

“We do not even pick up the phone or answer emails,” he said.

According to the health official, since that decision, some Palestinians have arranged treatment in Israel by coordinating with authorities directly.

Hadra said the majority of patients can get treatment within the Palestinian territories.

“Ninety-five percent of medical conditions can be treated in Palestinian hospitals, whether government or private one,” he said.

But not everyone can arrange their own transfers or afford costly treatment.

Hala al-Johari, 58, has not had her leukemia treatment for nearly a month and a half. 

Living in Nablus in the northern West Bank, Johari had traveled to Jerusalem over the previous eight months for cancer treatment at the city’s Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem.

The Palestinian Authority had been picking up the bill, but without its support she can’t afford the 1,000 shekels ($290) for her daily pill or the $100 weekly transport costs.

Cancer patients protested last Wednesday outside the Palestinian government office in the West Bank city of Ramallah, and days later Johari received some good news.

“They called me yesterday and told me that there will be enough medicine for a month,” she said.

But with no end in sight to the rift between Palestinian and Israeli officials, Johari and other patients are unsure when they will reach hospital.

“I am in an uncertain world, the lack of medicine makes me nervous and leaves me constantly afraid,” Johari said. “I don’t want to die.”

© Agence France-Presse

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