JERUSALEM: Tahreer Azzam, a nurse at Makassed Hospital in east Jerusalem, has been caring for young, desperately-ill Palestinian patients for 16 years.
Since the Israel-Hamas war erupted last month, she now struggles to find them.
Usually, around 100 patients from Gaza receive care each day for complex health needs such as treatment for rare cancers and open heart surgery, at hospitals like Azzam’s, as well as in the occupied West Bank, Israel and other countries, according to the World Health Organization.
That came to a halt after Oct. 7, when Hamas gunmen broke through the Gaza border fence, killing nearly 1,400 people inside Israel and taking some 240 hostages. Israel imposed a complete siege on Gaza, bombarding the coastal enclave and launching a ground offensive. More than 10,000 Palestinians, including over 4,000 children, have been killed, according to health officials in Hamas-run Gaza.
Azzam and her colleagues have been trying to reach their patients ever since, including checking Facebook to see whether they are still alive.
“We saw a post announcing that one of our child patients had been killed in the strikes. He had been at the department only a week before. He was six years old,” she said in an interview. “I can’t forget his image.”
The WHO is pushing for the most vulnerable among the chronically ill to be allowed out for treatment. Other countries have offered to take in patients, including Egypt, Turkiye and the United Arab Emirates.
Before the war, around 20,000 patients per year sought permits from Israel to leave the Gaza Strip for health care, many of them requiring repeat trips across the border. Almost a third are children. Israel approved around 63 percent of these medical exit applications in 2022, according to the WHO. Gaza’s own health care facilities have been stretched under a 16-year Israeli-led blockade and repeated rounds of fighting.
“In previous wars, the crossing would close for a day or two, but then the patients were able to return. This is the first time there is such a comprehensive ban on movement and Gaza patients can’t make it out,” said Osama Qadoumi, the supervisor at Makassed Hospital.