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Cancer patients stopped from leaving Gaza

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Siham has been turned away at the border multiple times, despite her name being on an evacuation list

“My medicine is finished. I’m so tired. I can hardly see in front of me. My chemotherapy ran out a long time ago,” said Siham.

Cancer patients stopped from leaving Gaza

The 62-year-old has leukaemia. Before the war broke out she was being treated at the Turkish-Palestinian Friendship Hospital in north Gaza – the only cancer hospital in the Strip.

She’s one of approximately 10,000 cancer patients in Gaza – according to figures from Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry – who have been unable to get treatment or medicines since the hospital shut down in the first week of November due to fuel shortages.

Family Members Trying To Get Family Members on Evacuation List

Like other displaced Palestinians in Gaza – of which the UN estimates there are 1.7 million – Siham fled her home in the north when her neighbourhood was hit by air strikes. When we spoke, she was sheltering with her daughter, who has a newborn baby, in a school in Rafah run by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.

She has been trying to leave for life-saving treatment for months, but has been turned away at the Rafah border crossing five times since the war began – it is currently the only way out of Gaza.

All border crossings with Gaza were closed for almost four weeks after Hamas attacked Israel on 7 October, killing more than 1,200 people and taking 253 others as hostages. Israel’s subsequent military campaign in Gaza has killed more than 31,000 Palestinians and left more than 73,000 injured, according to the health ministry.

In November, Egypt reopened the Rafah crossing to allow Egyptian citizens and other foreign passport holders to leave, as well as seriously injured and sick Palestinians.

A recent report by Gaza’s health ministry said more than 2,600 patients had been evacuated via Rafah, comprising 1,700 wounded and 900 sick.

Egypt, Turkey, the UAE and Jordan have pledged to treat thousands of cancer patients like Siham, as well as those injured in the war.

A daily list is published by the Palestinian border authority with names of the people who have been approved by Egypt and Israel to leave.

Siham’s name first appeared on the list published on 19 November for evacuation to Turkey. But she was turned away by border agents when she arrived at the crossing.

Siham has run out of medicine and has not received treatment since the Turkish Palestinian Friendship Hospital shut down in November

“They said the Turkish envoy hadn’t arrived. Is our life not as important as the arrival of the Turkish envoy? How is someone supposed to get out? Or is it because we’re not well connected?” she said.

Palestinian border agents said that because the Turkish envoy was not there to receive Siham on the Egyptian side, they could not let her through. But we have spoken to others who were allowed to travel to Turkey that day.

Mona Al-Shorafi was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago, and had been receiving treatment in Jerusalem before 7 October. She had been co-ordinating an initiative to provide psychological support for other cancer survivors and was just three days away from her next chemotherapy session when the war began.

“We had to leave our homes and stay in shelters and schools with many other families, and we were very worried because of our weak immune systems,” she said.

Mona’s name was on the same evacuation list as Siham’s on 19 November. She was allowed to cross the border to Egypt, and boarded a plane to Ankara along with more than 130 others, she told us. She was even allowed to take her two young daughters with her, although each patient is only officially allowed one companion.

“I had decided that if they turned one of my daughters back I wouldn’t cross, I couldn’t leave them behind,” said Mona. Her husband and sons are still living in a tent in the Tal al-Sultan area of Rafah.