Our Friend Munir From Gaza Is Dead. I Barely Got a Chance to Say Goodbye

After being prevented from getting his medication in Gaza for four months, our quiet and dignified friend died in an Israeli hospital, the day after I visited him. Post # 20

Umm Forat
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A Red Crescent ambulance carrying a Palestinian patient who had been treated in Israel back to the Gaza Strip, at the Erez border crossing, August 19, 2018.
A Red Crescent ambulance carrying a Palestinian patient treated in Israel back to the Gaza Strip. Many Gazan patients have died after being denied permits to Israel.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Umm Forat

I’m an Israeli lawyer, Jewish, married to a Palestinian resident of Ramallah. After years of wandering throughout the world, we returned to the West Bank with our two children, 5-year-old Forat and 2-year-old Adam. We are trying to lead ordinary lives in an extraordinary and unforgiving reality, one that I will share with you here. (Click to read all previous posts). I have changed the names of people in the blog, including my own. “Umm Forat” means “Mother of Forat” in Arabic.

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Munir is dead. He had cancer. He died after being prevented from getting his medication for four months. As his condition deteriorated, he had to wait weeks or months to leave the Gaza Strip, to reach Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, near Tel Aviv. Maybe he would have died anyway. He had cancer.

We met Munir through Mohammed, my partner Osama’s younger and charming brother, who still lives in the family home in the Jabalya refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. In February, we received orders from Mohammed to visit Munir in the new Istishari Hospital outside Ramallah, in the West Bank.

One evening Munir even came to our house for dinner and played with our kids, in his quiet and dignified way. When he went back to Gaza, he brought back the presents we had piled on him, for Osama’s mother, nieces and nephews, whom we can’t see because of the travel restrictions.

In April, Munir called Osama to ask if he knew someone traveling to Gaza. Munir needed a drug from the West Bank hospital. We also happened to be looking for a delivery person to Gaza – someone who would bring Mohammed’s son, who has a rare disease called thalassemia, an infusion pump that an Israeli medical supply company had donated.

The coronavirus pandemic was still new, and I was busy dealing with the closure of day care and kindergarten, and the difficulty of working with the children at home. I sent a few emails that yielded no result and let the issue slip my mind. Under the guise of the pandemic, Israel had tightened the criteria for travel into and out of the Gaza Strip, and its Hamas government had imposed a three-week institutional quarantine requirement on everyone entering Gaza. I couldn’t find anyone to bring the packages.

And then, two weeks ago, we found our delivery person: Munir himself. Over the last few months, the Israeli authorities had allowed medical patients to leave Gaza for treatment in Israel or the West Bank only in the most urgent cases, but Munir’s condition had deteriorated sufficiently to make him eligible for a permit.

I drove to Tel Aviv to collect the infusion pump from a colleague who had stored it for me.

“But it’s expired,” she warned.

“It’s okay,” I said. “It’s mechanical equipment, it’s not like a carton of milk.”

The truth is, I know nothing about the shelf life of the pump or the infusion sets that were also donated. I know that they sell for thousands of shekels – that’s what it cost when we bought similar items for Mohammed in the past. I assume that Israel’s national health insurance would have covered the cost, had the been for an Israeli child. But Osama’s nephew, the grandson of refugees from Ashkelon, is not eligible for Israeli health insurance, and the Palestinian Ministry of Health doesn’t cover the cost.

I brought the equipment to Sheba Medical Center, where Munir was hospitalized, alone, while his wife and four children stayed behind in Gaza. I intended to visit with him, but Internal Medicine Department ward No. 9 was closed to visitors due to the coronavirus pandemic. I stood outside the locked door and called Munir on the phone. He apologized and said he couldn’t come to meet me, but after the guard objected to bringing the equipment inside, Munir came out into the hallway.

Munir is a handsome man, 52 years old, with delicate facial features and salt-and-pepper hair. Uncharacteristically, he had left his hospital pajama top half open. Tubes protruded from his shirt, connected to bags of liquid hanging from a stand that he pushed on wheels.

He was thin but not worryingly thin. His voice and smile were weak. He thanked me for the things that Osama had persuaded him to request from us for himself – toothpaste, razor blades, shampoo and dates – and promised to bring the infusion pump to our nephew.

“This is from Mohammed, for the little ones,” he said and handed me a bag of presents.

“The next time I come, we’ll have coffee together,” I told him.

“God willing,” he said and added, using the Hebrew that he had been exposed to in the hospital, “beseder.” Okay.

As I walked back to the car, Osama called.

“He’s sick, Osama,” I said. “It’s not like the last visit to him. Maybe I can come back in a few days. If he feels better, he can sit outside in the hallway with me.”

The next day, as the children played with the presents Mohammed had sent – two sets of Smurf dolls and colored pencils – Mohammed called Osama.

“Thank him for the presents,” I called to Osama, but he hushed me with a wave of his hand and took the phone outside. A few minutes later he came back, his face stony.

“What?” I asked.

“It’s about ...” He didn’t finish the sentence but instead drew me toward him into a hug. I pushed him away and looked into his eyes.

“Tell me,” I said. Osama didn’t answer.

“Munir?”

“Yes.”

“What?” Osama didn’t answer.

“Did he die?”

“Yes, sweetheart,” Osama said.

“No!” I screamed, and this time I didn’t push Osama away as he pulled me close.

Our daughter Forat yelled from the children’s room: “What happened, Ima?” Her brother Adam repeated her words: “What happened, Ima?”

I pulled myself together.

“When?”

“Today. Mohammed saw a post on his daughter’s Facebook page. He’s trying to call, but she’s not answering.”

“But I saw him yesterday. He asked for dates. He had an appetite.”

I called the hospital.

“I’m not allowed to disclose medical information over the phone,” said the nurse from Internal Medicine Department ward No. 9, “but – the truth is, I also took it hard.”

“He couldn’t get his medicine for four months,” I told her.

“Yes, I know,” she said. “He arrived at an advanced stage. We knew it would happen.”

I thanked her for treating him and felt grateful for the respect with which she spoke about him.

“May his memory be a blessing,” she said.

In the last few months, a lot of medical patients from Gaza have died after their requests for permits from the Israeli military to access treatment in Israel or the West Bank were denied or went unanswered. Maybe they would have died anyway. They were sick.

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