Suddenly, a Palestinian Breast Cancer Survivor Becomes a 'Security Threat'

'What security threat do I pose to Israel if I go for an exam at Tel Hashomer?' Abu Nahla wonders. 'At the hospital entrance they take my identity card and exit permit. I can’t just go out for a stroll.'

The Erez Crossing between Gaza and Israel.
Ilan Assayag

Nadia Abu Nahla (Bakri), 52, who survived breast cancer, is very late for the periodic medical checkup she needs. In 2009, she was successfully treated at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer. She underwent chemotherapy, an operation, radiation; she asked and received exit permits for all stages. Of all her family, only her mother was permitted to accompany her.

Afterward, Abu Nahla continued regular follow-ups with the team that treated her with dedication. It is known how critically important the follow-up is. The medical equipment needed for periodic exams is not found in the Gaza Strip. It is forbidden to import it. Severe limits on movement also impair the quality of treatment in Gaza. And in general, it is her right to remain under the supervision of the medical team that knows her so well.

Abu Nahla is the director of the Gaza branch of one of the veteran Palestinian institutions working for women’s equality, the Technical Committee for Women’s Affairs. In recent years, because of a slight relaxing of the blockade, she received exit permits to participate in meetings and conferences in the West Bank and abroad. In February, she traveled through the Allenby crossing to visit her daughter and son, who study in Amman. She stayed two weeks and returned. The children, by the way, don’t dare visit the homeland, lest they be barred from leaving to return to their studies.

Recently she has been suffering from bone pain. After an exam at Tel Hashomer in December she got another appointment for March 30. When she asked for an exit permit ahead of the date, she received, to her shock, a reply in the negative. “Refused,” went the decision.

She rescheduled the appointment, submitted another request for an exit visa from Gaza, and again she was denied. Then it happened a third time. Her requests to leave for conferences in the West Bank and abroad were also suddenly rejected, without explanation. (Full disclosure: We know each other over 20 years, but I heard about the problem only on Sunday.)

After the second refusal, Abu Nahla was called in for a meeting with the Shin Bet officer at the Erez checkpoint. She came at 9:30 A.M., waited until after 4 P.M., then went in for a half-hour conversation. He asked about her children, her work, what she did in Amman. No claim of her doing something supposedly illegal was raised. “Arrest me if I’m dangerous,” she told the Shin Bet official. He did not respond. Many other sick people were called in and waited there for a meeting with him.

“What security threat do I pose to Israel if I go for an exam at Tel Hashomer?” she wonders. “At the hospital entrance they take my identity card and exit permit. I can’t just go out for a stroll. When I leave at night and they give me back my identity card, they immediately tell the Erez checkpoint that I’m on my way. I love living in Gaza. My family and work are there. I would not want to settle in the West Bank, but I have a right to treatment.”

In response to Haaretz’s questions, the Prime Minister’s Office commented in the name of the Shin Bet: “In urgent humanitarian and lifesaving cases, Israel allows Gaza Strip residents to enter Israel and Judea and Samaria for medical treatment. Nadia’s Bakri’s request was fully reviewed, and she did not meet these criteria. Still, if an additional request is submitted on her behalf, and supported by medical documentation, we will reexamine this request.”

Let us hope the exit permit for an exam will be given very soon, yet Abu Nahla is only one of many in Gaza – sick people, business people, and people involved in international organizations, a selected few who not long ago were allowed to leave the Strip due to the “loosening” of the draconian criteria the Shin Bet details above – but who suddenly, in the past several months, have been rejected on “security” grounds. They are rejected without explanation, with contradictory explanations, without transparency, without logic and without heart.