By Fareed Taamallah
Every day, world leaders think of new ways to punish the Palestinians for electing Hamas. But the people who suffer most are children like my daughter, Lina.
Lina was less than 1 year old when she caught a virus that gave her a high fever and caused diarrhea and vomiting. We live in a small West Bank village in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. In the winter of 2003, when Lina got sick, Qira was under curfew, and we couldn’t reach a doctor. We tried to take her to the hospital in the nearby city of Nablus. But Nablus was also under curfew. The Israeli soldiers manning the checkpoint on the outskirts of Nablus refused to let us in.
Eventually, on a rainy, cold day, my wife, Amina, carried Lina three miles on mountainous roads into Nablus to reach a doctor. One year later, we learned that the infection had caused renal failure and that Lina would eventually need a kidney transplant to survive.
For 16 months, Lina underwent dialysis every four hours. She spent many days in hospitals because of the kidney failure’s side effects, including hypertension and hernia. Her limbs became as thin as toothpicks.
During Lina’s numerous hospitalizations, the Israeli security services denied me permits to accompany her. No reason was given why.
Tests showed that neither her mother nor I was a compatible kidney donor for Lina. In the spring of 2005, a South African friend named Anna offered to donate a kidney to save Lina’s life. I had met Anna in 2003 during a peaceful protest campaign against the Segregation Wall Israel is building in the West Bank
Anna was a compatible donor. We raised $40,000 for the surgery. Hadassah Hospital in West Jerusalem agreed to perform the operation at a discount.
But the next obstacle was obtaining a visa for Anna, who was blacklisted from entering Israel because of her activities — all completely nonviolent — protesting the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Anna fought for a visa — and only received one after the Israeli hospital administrator called the Israeli Interior minister.
For the transplant, the hospital helped me and my wife get permits to enter Israel for a full month — an exceptional feat. Before taking Lina to the hospital, we took her to a nearby beach. Lina had never seen the sea. The sea is 30 miles from our house, but the coast is entirely in Israel. Palestinians do not receive permits to go to the beach.
We considered ourselves lucky. But is anyone really lucky who needs special permission to be with one’s child at a hospital? Imagine that, if you needed to be at your child’s hospital bedside, you had to wait in line at a military base for hours or even days to plead for an entry permit, granted on FBI approval only, approval that often is not forthcoming.
Despite the difficulties, the transplant was successfully performed in October 2005 in Jerusalem. The surgery to save Lina’s life was a collective effort of peace activists from the USA, South Africa, Europe, Egypt, Israel and Palestine.
Unfortunately, this was not the end of Lina’s difficulties. After Hamas won the elections in Palestine, the Israeli government tightened restrictions on Palestinians entering Israel. For a while it looked as if we would not get permission to enter for further treatments, but with difficulty we finally got approval to go to Lina’s appointment scheduled for next week. We fear we will not get future permits.
Additionally, the U.S. and Europe have decided not to continue aid to the Palestinian government, which offered Palestinians free healthcare. As the Palestinian Authority grows poorer and poorer, our benefits will almost certainly disappear, and Lina may not be able to get her very expensive medications. Her life might be in serious danger.
Israel claims it needs to restrict Palestinian movement in response to the new Hamas-led government. But the reality is that Israel first established its system of permits and closures in 1991, and we have been living under these difficult conditions ever since.
My wife, daughter and I are active in a nonviolent movement that includes many Israelis, Palestinians and foreigners. Although we received our permits this time, others who need them have not. Denying permits to innocent men, women and children does not make Israelis safer. It destroys the hopes of Palestinians.
But even if Lina’s health remains stable, that doesn’t guarantee a bright future. Like every Palestinian child, Lina’s future is uncertain. Will Israeli government policy permit her to become a happy, healthy and productive adult, as she deserves? For this to happen, Lina needs not only health, but also an end to occupation.
Fareed Taamallah is coordinator of the Palestinian Elections Commission for the Salfit region. He lives in the West Bank village of Qira.