Last week, the Shin Bet security service thwarted a mega-attack. At the last minute, it prevented 34-year-old Huriya from leaving the Gaza Strip to accompany her father to a Palestinian hospital in Jerusalem.
But once again, treatment has been delayed for a man whose cancer has recurred after a six-year remission. Granted, another family has been living in tension for more than two months between the father’s pain and the hope of an exit permit. But we’re living happily, in the cozy darkness of having someone who knows and decides everything.
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The name Huriya is fictitious. All the rest is true. She obtained my telephone number a few months ago from a family friend, a neighbor in the Jabalya refugee camp. He himself had cancer, and two years ago, he also sought my telephone number because he wanted to tell me how he had missed a doctor’s appointment.
Upon leaving Gaza, with a permit, he was told to go into the Shin Bet’s cellars at the Erez checkpoint on the Gaza-Israel border. There he waited for hours until he was summoned for a 15-minute interrogation. Exploiting the sick is one of the Shin Bet’s ways of gathering information. By the time he left the interrogation, it was already getting dark.
That man, Ziyad Ashour, who was then 60, told me that his wife had died a few months earlier. I said, “Oy.” And he replied, “When Rosa Luxemburg was in the underground, at the height of World War I, a friend came and told her that her mother had died. Luxemburg didn’t cry. The friend wondered why and she explained, ‘When there’s so much suffering around, how can I cry over my personal loss?’”
His words confirmed what I had already guessed from his manner of speaking: He was a leftist. It turned out he was a member of the Palestinian Communist Party and an activist during the first intifada who was therefore jailed. (He was also a housepainter who worked in Israel from a young age.)
He made a new doctor’s appointment and submitted a new request for an exit permit. But when the day of the appointment arrived, he still hadn’t received an answer – neither a yes nor a no. Such procrastination is typical.
On the morning of the appointment, I asked the Shin Bet and the spokespeople at Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories how Ashour endangered the public welfare. I was told he could exit. Immediately. The permit was waiting for him at the Erez checkpoint.
When we met, he couldn’t hide his astonishment. I explained that I have no secret powers, but sometimes my inquiries help smooth a path through the thicket of hardhearted bureaucracy. Sometimes.
It was with this hope that Huriya obtained my number. But she discovered the hard way that I have no hidden strings with which to tug the hearts of those who decide Palestinians’ fates.
In late March, she submitted a request for exit permits for her sick father, who has trouble walking, and herself, as the only possible escort from among his relatives.
By mid-April, a day before the doctor’s appointment, she still hadn’t received a reply. I asked COGAT what was going on. I was told that additional investigations of some kind were still needed. The appointment was missed.
Huriya submitted a new request for a permit. More than a month went by, and she said she still hadn’t received a reply. She also said that on May 20, her neighbor Ashour had died.
Two days before the appointment I asked COGAT what was happening, and was told two exit permits were ready for father and daughter. Oh joy.
But a day before they were supposed to leave, Huriya was told that the Shin Bet vetoed her exit and that another escort should be found.
Why, I asked, did they tell her only at the last minute, when her request for a permit had reached them two months ago? The Shin Bet didn’t respond.
I didn’t ask the following questions: Which of our wonderful boys in the Shin Bet would agree to let treatment for one of their loved ones be put off for so long? Who could guarantee that another escort could obtain a permit that very same day, given that her permit request had been wending its way through the pipeline for two months? Who could guarantee that the unknown pretext used to prevent her from leaving wouldn’t also keep another escort from leaving? Why add abuse to the pain of illness?
The answer is well known. Abuse is part of control.
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