Tasmin from Gaza, together with her mother and Nagah Zad, the chief nurse of the pediatric cardiac intensive care department of Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer..
(photo credit: COURTESY NAGAH ZAID)
With the devastation and genocide continuing in Syria, while the world looks on and appears impotent in bringing humanitarian aid to this war-torn country, we in Israel are endeavoring to find additional ways of taking the wounded into our hospitals.
This is not something new, as some 2,000 victims of the Syrian bloodbath – including many children – have been treated in Israeli hospitals since 2013.
Helping those whose leaders wish to destroy us is not a recent phenomenon.
Back in the midst of the intifada of 2000, when Palestinian suicide bombers were blowing up Israelis, claiming the lives of over 1,000 civilians, Israeli hospitals continued to treat Palestinians.
It was during this period that I was invited by Dr. Yoram Neumann, then-deputy head of the pediatric hemato- oncology department of Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, to meet some of his patients. The department cares for children with cancer and related problems. In this unit a child is prepared for his bone marrow transplant that ultimately could give him a 70% chance of a complete cure. At that time 20% of the patients were from the Palestinian Authority areas in Gaza and Judea and Samaria.
Today, Neumann is a consultant to the outpatient clinic of the pediatric oncology department at Sheba. I decided to contact him to arrange another visit to his clinic.
Currently, 40% of his patients come from Gaza and the West Bank. I looked around at the parents with their children waiting to be seen – many of the youngsters’ faces were bloated by the necessity of steroids given following a bone marrow transplant – children without hair in the midst of treatment yet still able to smile.
For those requiring hospitalization, 24 beds are available in the pediatric malignant oncology unit. On average, 50% of the inpatients are from Gaza and the disputed territories.
Neumann introduced me to a mother from Gaza whose eight-year-old daughter had been diagnosed with an abdominal tumor at the age of one year and three months. The child was operated on at Sheba some three months ago and has remained hospitalized ever since for follow-on treatment. Her mother has been with her for the entire period. Hostel accommodation – at a minimal cost – is provided for the accompanying parents or grandparents.
While Palestinian patients from Judea and Samaria come for treatment and then return home, this is not the case with those from Gaza, which is why it becomes necessary to provide accommodation. Children from Gaza arrive in special ambulances, which are obligated to pass through three checkpoints – Fatah, Hamas and finally Israeli.
Unfortunately, Palestinian children arrive in a far worse condition than those from Israel, primarily because they are not sent here at an early stage of diagnosis.
One of the patients I spoke with was 20-year-old Hela (not her real name) from Jenin. I expressed surprise at finding an adult in the pediatric unit. Neumann explained that there are young adults who have a pediatric-type cancer that can be treated far more successfully in the children’s cancer wing. Hela has been an inpatient since August, having been allowed home recently for one week’s respite. It is her hope to return to college to continue her studies in hospital administration.
During my conversation with Hela, we were joined by a young Palestinian woman from Hebron who helped with translation. A mother of three, her youngest child is currently hospitalized. I asked how it was for her, a Palestinian woman, being in an Israeli hospital. Her immediate response was that she had come to confront the enemy but found a friend. Meeting personally with Israelis has given her a totally different perspective. She spoke warmly of the care given to her child and the support she personally receives.
Neumann pointed out that a frustrating aspect of treating Palestinian children is that there is no knowing how they will fare in the future. The contact ends with the completion of the treatment at the hospital. This is in stark contrast to Neumann’s Israeli patients, whose families remain in touch and are only too ready to share with him how his ex-patient is fairing, which is very heartwarming.
My visit continued with Lee Gat, Sheba’s spokeswoman, taking me to the pediatric cardiac intensive care department. Here I was introduced to Nagah Zaid, the department’s chief nurse. Zaid, who lives in an Arab village close to Afula, has worked in the hospital for 30 years. The ratio of Israeli to Palestinian children in this unit is generally 50/50, but on the day of my visit, 11 of the 13 children being treated were from Gaza and Palestinian areas of Judea and Samaria.
Zaid said each patient has a story. He introduced me to four-year-old Mahmoud and his mother from Hebron. Mahmoud, as with many of the patients in the intensive care unit, is seriously ill.
Zaid went on to tell me about sevenyear- old Tasnim from Gaza who, together with her mother, has spent the past month in the unit following heart failure. She has now returned home, with the requisite medication, awaiting a heart transplant. The unit fought to ensure Tasnim was on the list of those requiring a new heart. Every effort was made to ensure Tasnim was given a chance to live.
At the conclusion of my visit I returned to Neumann and asked for his thoughts on treating patients from Palestinian backgrounds. He answered: “My feelings are mixed. On the one hand, I am a doctor who rejoices in helping children – irrespective of their backgrounds. I want to do the best for each and every one. I would dearly love a link with my Arab colleagues. I have trained a number and feel proud to have done so.
“On the other hand, I feel angry at the manner in which the world media projects us – we are portrayed as ‘child killers,’ while here and in hospitals all over the country we are saving Palestinian lives.
“Is it not time that the world recognized the humanitarian work carried out here, in spite of the continued incitement, stabbings, vehicle rammings and rockets activated against us?” The writer is active in public affairs and is public relations chairwoman of ESRA, which promotes integration into Israeli society.