Palestinians protesting Israel’s and Egypt’s siege on Gaza carry pictures denouncing former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, March 2010. (Hatem Omar/MaanImages)
RAFAH, occupied Gaza Strip (IPS) - It was easy enough to rename Mubarak Children’s Hospital the al-Tahrir Hospital in Gaza. Not so easy is the task of managing patients who need to cross over to the Egyptian side for treatment, or come back in.
Crossing the border, even for medical treatment, has always been an arduous task. Through the period of unrest it has been virtually impossible, although the new government in Egypt shows signs of relenting.
There has been some easing of restrictions on movement, and some indications that the border will be opened Tuesday to allow 300 persons through. Priority will be given to urgent medical cases, Gaza security officials told IPS.
On Friday, the Egyptian army reopened its Rafah crossing one way to allow some Palestinians to enter the Gaza Strip.
The change of name for the hospital in Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip is symbolic, but shows new hope that the Hamas government in Gaza nurtures of better relations with the new Egypt. Many in Gaza believe that under former president Hosni Mubarak, Egypt has long supported the Israeli blockade of Gaza.
The regime change in Egypt could spell hope for hundreds of patients in Gaza who need to travel out of the Strip for treatment.
The renaming of the hospital is “in honor of Tahrir Square in Cairo and the Egyptian revolution that took place recently there,” says Dr Yousef al-Mudallal, chief of staff at the Gaza Ministry of Health.
Former Palestinian president Yasser Arafat had given Mubarak hospital its name when it was set up in 1999. This is the first time a government institution has been renamed in Gaza.
Next to this hospital is Nasser hospital, named after former president Gamal Abdel Nasser. Al-Tahrir hospital is now considered a part of Nasser hospital, which specializes in pediatric, neo-natal, and maternity care as well as physiotherapy.
Most Palestinians in Gaza have celebrated the removal of Mubarak. But the complete sealing of the border has been disastrous for patients at these and other hospitals.
Among those affected badly is Mona Yassin, 43, diagnosed with breast cancer. She went to a hospital in Cairo just before the revolution started. “I have spent the 8,000 Egyptian pounds [US $1,260 dollars] I saved for my medical treatment,” she said. She has run out of money to return, or to stay. She and some family members had rented an apartment in Cairo.
“Now, I can neither go back home, nor continue the treatment,” she told IPS. Her husband has meanwhile received notice that if he cannot get back through Rafah, he will lose his job that supports his family, including seven children.
Hamed Afana, 42, died in Egypt while awaiting medical treatment. Afana’s body was brought in through the tunnels underneath the Egypt-Gaza borderline to be buried in Gaza.
When IPS called to check the status of this case, a border official said his records show that the now buried Afana is still abroad.
Since the attack on the Gaza aid flotilla on 31 May last year, the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt has been only partially open for six categories, including those with medical needs, registered students abroad and the few with visas to travel abroad.
During the closure of the crossing, the Hamas de facto government controlled the border tightly. “We are controlling the border and will not allow anybody to get in without permission,” said Ayyoub Abu Shaar.
Abu Shaar said an easing of restrictions is necessary for “the humanitarian cases in Gaza … as there are very urgent cases waiting for medical treatment abroad.”
On a regular day, 300 to 500 Palestinians cross the border, mainly people in need of medical treatment, and students going abroad.
Palestinian official Dr. Ghazi Hamad says negotiations are in progress to keep Rafah open permanently.
Many Palestinians in Gaza see that Egypt is Gaza’s gateway to the world, and expectation is high that the new government will help to end the siege of Gaza by being more lenient on the Rafah Border Crossing.