Palestinian fights to receive top care in Israel

Girl paralyzed from the neck down fights to receive medical care in Israel.

fight to stay 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
fight to stay 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
An errant Israeli missile killed Mariya Aman's mother and brother, and left the 6-year-old Palestinian girl paralyzed from the neck down. Now the government wants to cut off the medical care she has been receiving in Jerusalem and force her to leave to the West Bank, where hospitals are ill-equipped to treat her. Mariya and her family were traveling to visit an aunt in Gaza City on May 20, 2006, when a missile fired from an IAF aircraft struck near their car, killing her mother, brother, grandmother and uncle. Mariya was hit in the back of the head with shrapnel and thrown from the car. Another missile struck and killed the target, a senior Palestinian terrorist. For the past year, Mariya has spent her days in the arms of Israeli therapists at Jerusalem's Alyn children's rehabilitation center, who have taught her to make the most of the only muscles she can control, in her neck and head. Now that she can use her chin to maneuver her electric wheelchair, and type and draw on a computer, doctors say she can be cared for at home. The Defense Ministry is willing to continue to pay for her medical care - but wants her to leave Israel and transfer to the care of a Palestinian hospital. But Mariya's Israeli doctors say Palestinian facilities don't have the equipment and experts to treat her. Mariya's father and Israeli human rights activists have taken her case to Israel's Supreme Court in a bid to keep her in Israel, close to top medical care. "If I cannot see a sustainable, rational plan for her, regardless of my nationality and my citizenship, as a doctor I cannot send this child out," said Dr. Eliezer Be'eri, director of Alyn's respiratory rehabilitation unit. A curly brown ponytail hides the scars at the back of Mariya's head, and her face is often lit up in a smile. Playful despite her paralysis, the brown-eyed child squeals out her Israeli hydrotherapist's nickname as her father lowers her into the pool at Alyn. The hydrotherapist, Rahel Sova, wraps her arms around Mariya's waist and chest, holding the girl high enough so the water does not enter the surgical incision made in her throat to accommodate tubes from her portable ventilator. Mariya holds the edge of a cup with her teeth, dipping it to fill it with water and bringing it toward a water wheel toy. Mariya dumps most of the water into the toy, sending the yellow wheel spinning, while Sova lifts the cup to finish the job. Sova and two Israeli soldiers who volunteer at Alyn cheer on Mariya in Hebrew, a language she has learned at the hospital. Mariya's 30-year-old father, Hamdee, looks on from the edge of the pool, worried the water might slosh into the hole in her neck. A former construction worker in Gaza, Hamdee Aman now stays by his daughter's side around the clock. The government initially refused to let him into the country to see his daughter, but following critical local media reports, the Defense Ministry is now paying for a room for him and his surviving son, Moaman, 4, to stay at Alyn. Hamdee Aman says he won't ask for compensation for the harm done to his family. What he does want is Israeli citizenship for himself and his two remaining children, so they can be together and Mariya's medical care can be guaranteed throughout her lifetime. Backed by doctors and human rights groups, he has appealed to the Supreme Court, which is scheduled to hear the case on September 25. "I don't want inexperienced doctors in Ramallah practicing on my daughter," Aman said as he snapped a corset around her for support, dressing her after the pool. The Defense Ministry fears allowing Aman to stay will set a precedent and persuade other Palestinians injured in military operations to fight for similar rights. The ministry said in a statement that it went beyond the call of duty by treating Mariya at all, because the missile attack that hit the family was "an act of war" and Israel was not responsible for its consequences. The ministry has agreed to train staff at a rehabilitation center in the West Bank town of Ramallah, apparently recognizing that it would be impossible to send Mariya back to Gaza, which was overrun by Islamic Hamas terrorists in June, said an Israeli lawyer for the Aman family, Adi Lustigman. But it has not agreed to provide the equipment, like a portable ventilator, that Mariya would need to keep her at home instead of confined to a hospital bed. Ramallah also lacks other important equipment, like a device to maintain the oxygen supply in her blood, and a portable machine to suck fluid from her lungs, Be'eri said. And if fighting ignites in the volatile West Bank, Mariya might not be able to reach Jerusalem to receive urgent care, Lustigman said. "Israel must take responsibility for innocent people who are hurt when it carries out attacks on militants," she said. "She has to receive citizenship." The government says Palestinian terrorists are to blame for civilian casualties because they operate out of civilian areas. The Palestinian Authority has not compensated Israelis wounded in attacks by Palestinian terrorists. Mariya's case could create opportunities for cooperation with the Palestinians if Israel agrees to provide the Ramallah hospital with the necessary equipment, and train the staff there, Be'eri said. "It would be a good precedent for the future if we could show that even across the border we can work together and we can establish a way for Aman to be treated," he said. "But, you know, I don't want to turn her into a poster child. I have to look at what her needs are."