Testimony: A father and ill son from Gaza stranded in Egypt

‘Imad Hassan Mustafa Farhat, 30, married with four children, is a traffic policeman and a resident of Rafah. His testimony was given to Zaki Kuhail at the witness’s house in Rafah on 24 January 2007:

‘Imad Farhat

I live with my wife and children in the al-Shabura refugee camp in the center of Rafah. I have two sons and two daughters, the eldest child is six and the youngest is one year old.

I work as a traffic policeman in the Rafah Police Department and make NIS 1,940 a month. In January 2003, when my son ‘Ali was six months old, I noticed that he had problems hearing and that he was slow in his movements. I took him to the clinic of Dr. Nabil al-Barqoni, a private pediatrician. He conducted some tests and found that ‘Ali had an enlarged spleen and liver and a hearing deficiency. The doctor told me that I had to take him abroad for a precise diagnosis because it couldn’t be done in the Gaza Strip. I didn’t have the money to pay for the trip and requested a grant from the Palestinian Ministry of Health to cover the cost of the tests.

In February 2005, I received the grant and ‘Ali and I went to ‘Abd al-Nasser Hospital, in Subra, Egypt. We remained there one month, the time it took for the doctors to complete the tests. They found that his spleen and liver were enlarged, that he had a high enzyme level in his liver, and that he was anemic and had a high bilirubin count. The doctors did not treat him. They said the pediatrician in the Gaza Strip could do that.

When we returned to Rafah, Dr. al-Barqoni prescribed medicines and treatment based on the diagnosis made by the Egyptian physicians. In May 2005, I took ‘Ali back to Egypt for more tests and monitoring. This time, the physicians found that he had a birth defect (atrophy) in the cerebellum and that his physical development and motor skills were slow for his age. They also found that the nerve in his ear was damaged.

We returned to the Gaza Strip and I showed the new laboratory test results to Dr. al-Barqoni. He treated ‘Ali accordingly. ‘Ali’s hearing and speech improved, but the other problems remained as they were, or even got worse. He lost control of his sphincter muscle and began to have spasms.

We had to take ‘Ali to hospital in Egypt. It was urgent. Again, I asked for a grant from the Palestinian Ministry of Health, but because of the financial crisis in the Palestinian Authority, they couldn’t help me. I raised $700 from friends and made plans to go to Egypt on 25 December 2006, but Rafah Crossing was closed that day.

Every day, I listened to the news to learn when the Israelis would open the crossing. On 31 December, it was announced that the crossing would be open the next day. So the next morning, at 7:00, ‘Ali and I went to the crossing. There were about 2,000 people there. I took him in my arms and pushed my way among the people to get to passport control. At 1:00 in the afternoon, we crossed into Egypt.

In Egypt, I rented a room for four nights in a modest hotel in Cairo. I paid 60 Egyptian pounds (about NIS 45) a night. The four nights passed and ‘Ali still had to undergo more tests, so I was worried that I wouldn’t have enough money to both pay for more nights in the hotel and for the trip home. I called Majdi Farhat, a relative of mine who was studying and living in Cairo, and asked him if we could stay at his place for a few days. He agreed and we stayed with him from the fifth to the twenty-first of January.

In Cairo, I took ‘Ali to six specialists. Each one cost 100 Egyptian pounds. I had all the diagnostic reports in my hand and we were ready to return to Rafah on the fifteenth of January, but Rafah Crossing was closed (it had been closed since the sixth of the month). I had only 300 shekels in my pocket. I waited a few more days, during which I began to worry that I would run out of money and have no way to get home. Majdi was my only relative in Egypt, and he was a student living in a rented apartment could barely cover his own costs.

I kept listening to the news, hoping the crossing would be opened. Finally, I heard that it would be open on the twenty-first and the twenty-second. We traveled to a friend in al-Arish to sleep at his house and then go to the crossing in the morning. But the crossing did not open on the twenty-first, as promised. It opened the next day, and we arrived there at 7:00 in the morning. Thousands were waiting to enter the Gaza Strip. We waited for ten hours, but the line hardly moved at all. We waited until 5:00 P.M., when the Egyptians said that the crossing had closed and would be opened the next day. We returned to my friend’s house in al-Arish.

The trip from al-‘Arish to the crossing cost 70 Egyptian pounds, which had gone to waste. Also, it was very hard waiting at the crossing. ‘Ali was hungry and thirsty, and I had to buy him a bottle of water, which cost two pounds, and later, when he was hungry, I bought food that cost five pounds. He wanted to sleep, so I sat down on the road and he slept on my leg for an hour and a half, out there under the sun. I didn’t move because I was afraid if I did, he would wake up. The area we were in was filthy and smelly. There was no place to sit, or any covering to block the sun. In the afternoon, ‘Ali was hungry and thirsty again. I went to a cafeteria outside the area of the crossing, but no food was left for me to buy. By the end of the day, I had only NIS 200 shekels left.

To make things worse, ‘Ali had relieved himself, and I had to clean him before changing his diaper. I couldn’t get any water. ‘Ali cried all day long, and I felt humiliated by everything we went through.

At the end of the day we went back to al-‘Arish, where we slept at my friend’s house. The next morning, we got to the crossing at six o’clock. There were fewer people this time, but we still had to push to get to passport control, which we reached at ten in the morning. A few hours later, we were in Rafah. I didn’t have enough money left to pay the taxi driver who drove us home from the crossing. I had only ten shekels, and the trip cost fifteen. At home, my wife gave me five shekels so I could pay the fare.

Related Links

  • B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories