It makes no difference what their names are. The privacy of the two women (age 28 and 43) whom I’ll mention here is more important. What’s more, their presumably private business is an excellent representation of the Israeli problem. (Click here for live election updates. Here for latest polls)
I’ll come to the Israeli problem at the end. Let’s begin with the women. They’re another two cancer patients, of course. From the Gaza Strip, of course. And both need radiation and other life-saving treatments that aren’t available in Gaza. Both received appointments for treatment at the Palestinian Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem.
Admit it (that is, those of you who didn’t stop at the second sentence). You’re tired of reading the same story again and again. You’re tired of reading about another person who aside from the torment caused by the disease and the natural fears of it, experiences the added suffering tax that Israel imposes on every Palestinian: a nerve-racking wait for an exit permit that at best is granted several weeks after the request and at worst is refused.
The truth? I’m tired of it too. I’m tired of hearing from another daughter that her father is fading away before her eyes and there’s no exit permit. I’m tired of burrowing into the intimate medical history of a stranger, just as the young soldier-clerk does at the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. I’m tired of perusing the insistent correspondence of Physicians for Human Rights that reminds that same soldier-clerk that the request has been submitted so and so many times.
And then comes the insensitive, photocopied bureaucratic reply. I’m also tired of suspecting that maybe it was the Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee that didn’t send the request in time, or maybe didn’t sent it to the Israeli side at all, out of negligence. Or because it’s obeying an unwritten order to punish the Gazans for Hamas rule.
Several weeks have passed since those two women submitted their requests, and in the meantime one is being devoured by intestinal cancer and the other by breast cancer. Do you really need a wild imagination to understand the magnitude of their distress and that of their families?
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And yet, their case is a bit different from the typical ones of people denied a permit for medical treatment: They have no ID cards. In other words, they’re not registered in the Palestinian Population Registry, for which Israel decides who is included and who is not. Yes, yes. Even in the Gaza Strip, which ostensibly is no longer occupied.
Their story is a typical Palestinian story of exile and wandering. The two women were born in Arab countries to a Palestinian parent or to two Palestinian parents. One arrived as a child with her widowed mother with a visitor’s permit in the late ‘90s, and they remained in Gaza. The second fled from a war-stricken Arab country and managed to enter the Strip via a tunnel. Both have family in Gaza.
The older woman is married to a resident of the Strip and they have four children. A process of “family reunification” – granting residential status to Palestinians (or their descendants) who were uprooted from the West Bank or Gaza after 1967, or those who marry a Palestinian resident – is tailor-made for them. But Israel, with its obsession of intervening in Palestinian demography, stopped the process in the 2000s (and even earlier conducted it with a deliberate slowness).
And so our two women also lack a recognized identity. There are apparently several thousand others like them in Gaza including Palestinians who fled in recent years from Syria, Yemen and Libya, and Palestinians whose parents were expelled by Israel after 1967.
In Gaza they receive an alternative ID card, called an identification document that lets them conduct their bureaucratic business: to register children for school, to obtain a driver’s license, to register for university, to sign a rental contract. But if they fall ill and must go for treatment in Nablus or East Jerusalem, their internal identification document is worthless. The Population Registry, which is under Israeli control, doesn’t recognize it.
The two women submitted a request for an exit visa via the Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee, which told them that COGAT is delaying the processing of the request because they don’t have an ID card. They turned to Physicians for Human Rights, which asked COGAT what was going on. The days passed. What Israeli would agree to have his mother or sister receive treatment at a delay of two or three months?
A question by Haaretz to the COGAT spokesman accelerated the handling of the requests (as has happened in the past). Early last week I was informed that the exit of the two women was approved. That’s a relief. But the Israeli problem remains.
On Tuesday the election will take place, and it’s so natural to Israelis that their right to vote includes the crudest intervention in the lives of about 5 million people who are denied the right to vote. Say what you will, but Israel is a democracy. And most Jewish Israelis will once again vote in a totally free election for parties for which our right to rule and abuse another people is a sacred principle enshrined in their platforms.
So that’s the Israeli problem: that our right to vote includes the right to deny the Palestinians so much – abstract things such as rights and concrete things such as life, health, a livelihood and freedom. And most Jewish Israelis don’t even think it’s a problem. And when someone protests, they reply: But after all, that’s what we decided by majority vote.