In his short life, Palestinian toddler Mohammed al-Farra has known just one home: the yellow-painted children’s ward in Israel’s Tel Hashomer hospital.
Born in Gaza with a rare genetic disease, Mohammed’s hands and feet were amputated because of complications from his condition, and the 3 1/2-year-old carts about in a tiny red wheelchair. His parents abandoned him, and the Palestinian government won’t pay for his care, so he lives at the hospital with his grandfather.
“There’s no care for this child in Gaza, there’s no home in Gaza where he can live,” said the grandfather, Hamouda al-Farra.
“He can’t open anything by himself, he can’t eat or take down his pants. His life is zero without help,” he said at the Edmond and Lily Safra Children’s Hospital, part of the Tel Hashomer complex in the Israeli city of Ramat Gan.
Mohammed’s plight is an extreme example of the harsh treatment some families mete to the disabled, particularly in the more tribal-dominated corners of the Gaza Strip, even as Palestinians make strides in combatting such attitudes.
It also demonstrates a costly legacy of Gaza’s strongly patriarchal culture that prods women into first-cousin marriages and allows polygamy, while rendering mothers powerless over their children’s fate.
Mohammed was rushed to Israel as a newborn for emergency treatment. His genetic disorder left him with a weakened immune system and crippled his bowels, doctors say, and an infection destroyed his hands and feet, requiring them to be amputated.
In the midst of his treatment, his mother abandoned Mohammed because her husband, ashamed of their son, threatened to take a second wife if she didn’t leave the baby and return to their home in the southern Gaza Strip town of Khan Younis, al-Farra said. In Gaza, polygamy is permitted but isn’t common. But it’s a powerful threat to women fearful of competing against newer wives.
Now Mohammed spends his days undergoing treatment and learning how to use prosthetic limbs.
His 55-year-old grandfather cares for him. Mohammed’s Israeli doctors, who’ve grown attached to the boy, fundraise to cover his bills, allowing him and his grandfather to live in the sunny pediatric ward.
But it’s not clear how long he’ll stay in the hospital, or where he’ll go when his treatment is complete. As a Palestinian, Mohammed is not eligible for permanent Israeli residency. Yet his family will not take the child back, the grandfather said. His parents, contacted by The Associated Press, refused to comment.
As his grandfather spoke, Mohammed used his knees and elbows to scamper up and down a nearby stairwell, his knees and elbows blackened and scarred from constant pressure. He used his arms to hold a green bottle he found in a stroller. His prosthetic legs with painted-on shoes were strewn nearby.
He crawled toward his grandfather’s lap. “Baba!” he shouted, Arabic for “daddy.” “Ana ayef,” he said – a mix of Arabic and Hebrew for “I’m tired.”
Dr. Raz Somech, the senior physician in the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer’s pediatric immunology department, attributes Mohammed’s genetic disorder to the several generations of cousin marriages in his family – including his parents.
Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar approved Sunday the arrival of three Iraqi children – aged one, four and five – to Israel, in order to receive lifesaving medical care at the Edith Wolfson Medical Center in Holon. The three are expected to arrive at the Israeli hospital within the next few days.
Sa’ar approved the children’s entrance to the country on grounds of humanitarian aid, promoted by Save a Child’s Heart, an Israel-based international project, which has so far coordinated cardiac surgeries for some 3,000 children from 44 countries.
Since 2004, Ynet learned, 180 Iraqi children have made it to Israel – 50 of them in the past two years.
At the moment, Israeli hospitals are treating children from Iraq, as well as from the Palestinian Authority, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Gana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Romania and China. Doctors and nurses from Tanzania, Ethiopia, the Palestinian Authority and Georgia are also taking part on the project and are undergoing training in Israeli hospitals.
Founded in 1996, SACH funds the children’s operations via donations and a special budget by the Regional Cooperation Ministry, headed by Silvan Shalom.
“This work produces a sense of fulfillment that is hard to put into words,” said Dr. Lior Sasson, the project’s lead surgeon and Chief of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the Wolfson Medical Center.
“We save children who would otherwise not have made it, because they could not get treatment. The ability to help parents from countries defined as ‘enemy countries’ and restore their hope after they’ve lost it is not at all obvious.”
Dr. Sasson added that during the Intifada the program continued to treat children from the Palestinian Authority: “Despite the animosity, that channel remained open. It breaks down barriers.”
Himself the son of Iraqi parents who immigrated to Israel when the country was founded, Sasson noted that through the project “We are in fact sowing seeds of peace with the country that my parents left.
“The father of an Iraqi child treated here in 2005 called me during the Second Lebanon War to see if we’re ok. He wanted to see how we were and was worried about the entire medical staff. It was amazing to me.
Simon Fisher, Executive Director at Save a Child’s Heart, added that “the complexities of bringing in children from countries defined as ‘enemy countries’ depend on the cooperation between the medical staff and the government, but in the end it all proves that human life is above everything.”
Referring to the project’s staff, he stressed: “They build bridges and break stereotypes.”
“What I learned in Maryland saved the lives of many people in Israel, and we Israelis thank you for that,” Prof. Avi Rivkind, head of the Department of General Surgery and Trauma Unit at the Hadassah Ein Kerem Medical Center in Jerusalem, told Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and University of Maryland, Baltimore President Dr. Jay Perman on Tuesday.
The two American officials visited the Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Medicine and Hadassah’s Trauma Unit.
Prof. Rivkind specialized in trauma care at the University of Maryland’s Shock Trauma Center from 1986 to 1988. He used the knowledge he gained there to set up the Trauma Unit at the Hadassah Medical Center.
Dr. Perman said he was proud of the student who excelled his teachers, as the special care methods developed by Rivkind and his team over the years were used by doctors who treated the victims of the recent Boston Marathon bombings.
Governor O’Malley noted that Henrietta Szold, the founder of the Hadassah Women’s Organization who helped build the Hadassah hospital, came from Baltimore.
He said that during his term as Baltimore mayor, he had hung Szold’s picture in his office. “I can feel her spirit here today,” he added.
During the visit, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the Hebrew University’s School of Medicine and University of Maryland, Baltimore.
Chan said Israel spends less on healthcare than the average OEDC country does, while getting excellent results. She added she has come to learn from Israel’s healthcare system. (Dr. Itay Gal)
For the third year running, the Israeli winner of the L’Oréal-UNESCO “Women in Science” prize has gone on to take the winning title for all of Europe. Dr. Osnat Zomer-Penn, who was one of three Israelis chosen to compete in the finals, received the European award in a ceremony at the Sorbonne in Paris on Thursday.
In her first move as Israel’s new health minister, Yael German (Yesh Atid) instructed the ministry staff to reconsider the ban on accepting blood donations from gay men.
The form filled out by every blood donor in Israel states that gay men who have had sex with other men are prohibited from donating blood.
People who have tested positive for HIV, used drugs or been exposed to mad-cow disease, among other constraints, are also prohibited from donating blood.
After the Passover holiday, a Health Ministry advisory committee on intravenous medicine headed by Professor Noga Mani, formerly the head of the Hadassah blood bank, will convene to discuss the issue revisited by German, formerly the mayor of Herzliya.
“The committee will call on relevant professionals as well as the leaders of the gay-lesbian community, hear their opinions and examine the possibility of changing the clause,” the ministry stated yesterday.
Magen David Adom, the emergency-services organization responsible for Israel’s blood banks, began to monitor and limit gay donors in the 1980s following the discovery and spread of AIDS. In the questionnaire given to donors, any man who has had sex with another man since 1977, the year HIV was first discovered in humans, is disqualified.
Many other countries also limit blood donations from gay man. The U.S. Red Cross disqualifies would-be donors who had sex with another man even before 1977, while New Zealand does not accept blood from men who have had sex with other men during the previous five years.
In many countries, including the UK, Sweden, Japan, Australia, Brazil, Argentina and Chile, a one-year time frame is enforced. In South Africa the time limit is six months, while several countries including Italy, Spain and Mexico have no limitation whatsoever.
Israel’s LGBT community raised the issue back in 2004. The last debate on it was held a year ago, at the behest of Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich and gay activists in the Labor party, but the staff at the Health Ministry opted to leave the clause unchanged.
Health Ministry and MDA officials continue to define gays as a high-risk group for HIV infection, especially since the rise in recent years in HIV infection in the local gay community.
In recent years, an average of four blood samples out of a total of 300,000 donations per year have been found to be infected with HIV. Last year, 13 blood samples were found to be HIV-positive.
The Labor party’s gay organization welcomed the move, calling it a positive step, while noting that a number of Health Ministry committees had already examined the subject in the past, and that they had all eventually decided to leave the clause untouched.
“We hope that this time the committee will decide to set a time limit for [the clause], if not to cancel it altogether, similar to the trend in enlightened states,” the group said.