Dear Guardian, Who Is Really Responsible For a Gaza Woman’s Untreated Breast Cancer?
Ghada Hammad is a Palestinian mother living in the Gaza Strip, who is currently battling a recurrence of stage 2 breast cancer.
In a first-person account of her tragic story — as told to the Guardian’s Jerusalem correspondent Bethan McKernan — Hammad describes how her diagnosis came shortly after she had five babies following IVF treatment and when she was still breastfeeding her young children.
She explains that surgeons at a hospital in Gaza performed a single mastectomy, in addition to chemotherapy and hormonal therapy until 2015 — after which she was referred for radiotherapy, which was unavailable at any medical facilities in Gaza:
You have to get permission from the Israelis to travel to Jerusalem or the West Bank for treatment, or from the Egyptians to go to Cairo.
To get medical treatment outside Gaza, normally you have to get a referral appointment from the hospital in the West Bank, and then apply to the Palestinian body that coordinates travel permits for medical treatment with the Israelis. Budgets for medical coverage from the Palestinian Authority are really tight; there are more patients for complicated surgeries and cancer treatment. Usually, only people in a critical condition get permits quickly.
While Hammad acknowledges that she could have received a travel permit from Egypt, she details how the journey into Egypt is longer and how patients potentially face the need to have their tests redone in the country before they can receive treatment. In any event, she says that she and her husband would have been unable to afford this additional expenditure.
She then explains, in great depth, the alleged problems thrown up by the Israeli security services in issuing her a visa to travel through Israel to receive care at the Augusta Victoria hospital in eastern Jerusalem, including a security interview at the Erez Crossing, in which she was reportedly quizzed about her male family members.
She claims that Israeli authorities later erroneously insisted they had not received any travel applications from her in 2015.
Hammad then fast-forwards to May of this year, when she was told her cancer had returned, and she was scheduled for an appointment in Jerusalem earlier this month, although it is unclear whether she attended it.
While Hammad’s tale of poor health while caring for a young family is gut-wrenchingly tragic, there are several points that the Guardian should have included, which would have ensured readers were not being misled about who is responsible for the failures in her healthcare.
First, far from routinely denying Palestinians in the Gaza Strip access to medical care, Israel’s Ministry of Defense’s Land Crossings Authority and the Unit for Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) make every effort to facilitate medical care for Palestinians from the Gaza Strip.
In 2021, there were 13.5 million individual crossings by Palestinians for work, commerce, and medical treatment, which represented a 23 percent increase from the previous year. This rise in crossings coincided with a sharp increase in disruptions at the crossings, with Israeli forces intercepting firearms, knives and other weaponry. It is these security issues that make travel permits and stringent checks at the crossings a necessity.
Incidentally, the uptick in crossings miraculously happened in spite of Israel facing off against another security threat emanating from the coastal enclave — the Hamas-initiated war in May.
Second, the role of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in enabling medical care in the West Bank is totally glossed over in the Guardian piece, including how in 2020 the PA’s President Mahmoud Abbas had no qualms about canceling agreements signed with Israel and the United States. The knock-on effect of this was that the Authority ending its coordination with Israel regarding permit requests for patients in Gaza.
Last — and most critically — Guardian readers should have been told why radiotherapy is not available in the Gaza Strip in the first place — and why people in Hammad’s situation are forced to travel great distances to receive life-saving care.
As most HonestReporting readers will know, it is the US-designated terrorist organization Hamas that governs the Gaza Strip, and is responsible for maintaining medical facilities and other public services in the territory.
Unfortunately, Hamas prefers to spend the hundreds of millions of dollars in aid that it receives on continuing to wage a genocidal war against the Jewish state at the expense of the poverty-stricken population it should be providing for.
Indeed, during the 2014 Gaza conflict — mere months before Hammad first required urgent treatment — intelligence revealed that Hamas was using numerous hospitals in the Strip as launchpads for rocket attacks against Israel, in violation of international law.
Similarly, the group was found to have used ambulances as transport vehicles for its militants while using Palestinian medics as human shields. In fact, Hamas boasts the ignominious title of being one of the world’s wealthiest terrorist organizations, with HonestReporting detailing last year how the group has squirreled away funds exceeding $500 million, which is held as investments in various foreign companies.
Sadly for Palestinians like Hammad, Hamas would rather spend its cash on weaponry to attack Israel than build the 1,405 homes, 310 medical clinics, 114 mosques or 98 schools in the Gaza Strip that just $49 million of that money could pay for.
What a shame that Guardian readers were not given the above salient facts in a piece that could have used one woman’s plight to lay bare the catastrophic failure of the Palestinian leadership in taking care of its people.