Cancer Patient’s Death Sparks Gaza Blockade Anger

By David Hardaker
ABC News, Australia

Israeli authorities are under fire after the death of a 21-year-old Palestinian man who was barred from leaving the Gaza Strip for cancer treatment in Israel.

Human rights workers say Israel’s security services made the decision to stop the young man from entering Israel in the knowledge that he would die without proper treatment.

Nael al-Kurdi died a slow and painful death, the agony made all the worse because it could have been prevented.

The case has caused some Israelis to question the tactics being employed by Israel in its blockade of the Gaza Strip.

But Israel is not the only party to bear some responsibility.

Egypt too could reopen a crossing from Gaza, but it has refused to do so because it doesn’t want Hamas members to enter its territory.

Miri Weingarten is an Israeli who works for Physicians for Human Rights.

"I feel that the state of Israel has reached a situation in which it really disregards human life and dignity when you’re talking about Palestinians," she said.

"And this case is so clear-cut."

Mr al-Kurdi was suffering from testicular cancer. He was given chemotherapy in Gaza as well as in neighbouring Egypt.

There were early signs of success, with the tumour shrinking by 50 per cent.

But in June this year Mr al-Kurdi’s luck changed. Hamas took control of Gaza, Israel tightened its blockade and the crossing into Egypt was closed.

Mr al-Kurdi only had one alternative, and that was to seek medical treatment in Israel.

Ms Weingarten says he started trying in July this year.

"From the moment he tried to apply for entry into Israel for medical care, he was refused on security grounds," she said.

She says if Mr al-Kurdi had been permitted in Israel in July, his life may have been saved.

"In July, he was on the way to recovery, and if he had received appropriate care in that time, he had very good chances of recovery," she said.

"He was young, he was 21 years old."

No Israeli official has been prepared to answer questions about Mr al-Kurdi’s case.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said he would be interviewed generally about security questions, but then withdrew.

He supplied a written statement from security officials, which said it was impossible to ignore the fact that over the past few years, extreme Jihad organisations had exploited personal hardships to recruit suicide bombers.

Egypt’s Inaction

Israel is not the only party to bear responsibility in this case. Egypt has refused to reopen a crossing from Gaza because it doesn’t want Hamas members to enter its territory.

Human Rights Watch spokesman Gasser Abdel-Razek, based in Cairo, says his organisation has been trying to convince authorities to allow people more freedom of movement.

"Our press statement is very clear: we call on [the] Egyptian Government, on [the] Palestinian authority and on Hamas to put pressure and resolve the issues so people can move," he said.

But he says the reaction from Cairo hasn’t been promising.

"The reaction so far has been as if the problem does not concern the Egyptian Government, and in fact it does," he said.

Physicians for Human Rights took Mr al-Kurdi’s case to Israel’s High Court of Justice. The court gave the security services a week to come up with answers, but Mr al-Kurdi died in the meantime.

The court is due to hear the reasons at the end of this week. That will be too late for Mr al-Kurdi, but Ms Weingarten says there are three other serious cases.

"We are now very, very concerned for their welfare because if Mr al-Kurdi died while waiting, what will happen with these other patients?" she said.

-ABC News, Australia (Nov 22, 2007)

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