Cancer didn’t kill my mother, the occupation did

Palestinian youths hold candles during a peaceful demonstration in Gaza City against Israel’s assault on Gaza, 3 July 2006. Gaza has been under siege and cut off from the rest of the world for several months.(MaanImages/Thaeer al-Hassany)


Early this morning, I received the sad news that my mother (54 years old) passed away after serious health complications last night.

I am sending this message to you and many other people around the world because I promised my mother before she died to let everybody know that it wasn’t cancer that killed her, it was the occupation.

Yes, the Israeli occupation killed my mother, but this time not using missiles and tank rockets, but through collective punishment and humiliation. Most cancer patients (and those suffering other serious diseases) from Gaza go to Egypt for treatment because we don’t have the health infrastructure and latest technologies to do so in Gaza. This is a result of the continuous siege and control imposed by the Israelis over the Palestinian cities, especially Gaza. My mother was one of those patients who was diagnosed, at a very early stage, with bone cancer and was supposed to go to Egypt for treatment early June 2006.

Because of the collective punishment policies that Israel imposes, nobody from Gaza was able to travel (in or out) to any place in the world for three months, because the Israelis control the borders. It wasn’t until August 25th that my mother was able to make it to Egypt. During these three months, I and many other people both inside and outside of Palestine tried to talk to international and human rights organizations and ask them to intervene and help in this humanitarian situation. Unfortunately, our appeals failed to change the situation or to make any special arrangements. All these requests were rejected by the occupiers. By the time my mother made it to Egypt, it was unfortunately a bit late because the cancer was rapidly growing in her body and at that stage, doctors didn’t have much to do but to try the chemotherapy to see if it could help. Unfortunately, this didn’t help much and she peacefully passed away last night. My mother is not the only case; she is just one the cases that someone could talk about. In addition to the tens of people being killed by the Israelis every day through the use of traditional weapons, tens, if not hundreds, of others die every day because of lack of access to health services, because of movement restrictions imposed by the Israelis and the restrictions on delivering medicine and health equipment to Gaza and other Palestinian cities.

Siege and movement restrictions don’t only separate patients from health services and facilities (or even from local hospitals; many women gave birth at the checkpoints and many other women, children and seniors die before making it to the nearest hospital). They also separate students from schools and universities, believers and worshipers from mosques and churches, and families from seeing each others for many years.

There are currently more than 500 movement restrictions in the West Bank. Five hundred movement restrictions in an area that is probably smaller than most of the cities in the U.S. — its size is around 2000 square miles and this area is currently surrounded by the new Apartheid Wall. These checkpoints separate villages, cities, refugee camps and sometimes neighborhoods in the same city. These are the same restrictions that made me unable to see my family in Gaza (when I was living in the West Bank) for more than five years. Even when I was here in the U.S. and wanted to go back and see my mother during the last two months, I wasn’t able to do so because the borders were still closed (the Rafah border with Egypt, which is the only gate for Gazans to access the world, was open only six days during the last six months).

What really breaks my heart is not the fact that my mother died, because it’s something that everybody will experience one day and I really have great faith in God that this may be better for her. What really makes me feel very sad is that, again, because of the occupation, I haven’t seen her for more than six years and that I wasn’t even able to see her one last time and say goodbye. It also makes me feel very sad because one of the main motivations for me to pursue a Ph.D. was my great mother. When I was six years old my cousin got his Ph.D. and when we were coming back from visiting him my mother asked me this question (she was probably joking at that time as I was a little kid and wouldn’t even know what the Ph.D. is, but I know she meant it). She asked me, “Would you do it for me one day and get your Ph.D.?” I kept this in my mind and heart all the time and I was always encouraged by her and her high spirit to succeed and to make it to Syracuse University to get my Ph.D. Unfortunately, she will not be able to see this day and know that yes, I did it for her.

Goodbye my great mother, you were all the time the source of my inspiration and you will always be, even in your physical absence. May God have mercy on you and bless your soul, mother.

Friends and colleagues, unfortunately, our world is full of similar sad and unjustified cases of unfairness and humiliation, but always remember, we can always make a difference if we want. Think of it and see what you can do to make others live the same way you and your children live. Even a little change can make a difference.

Raed M. Sharif is in the Ph.D. Program in Information Science and Technology at the School of Information Studies, Syracuse University.

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