At 10:03 on Monday morning, Osama Rusrus phoned from Beit Umar in the West Bank with wonderful news: His wife Sunya and daughter Dalal had crossed through the checkpoint into Jerusalem, on their way to Alyn Hospital.
It took nearly two months of wrangling with the Israeli authorities, especially the agency that never signs its name, and it was touch and go till the last moment.
Before I tell the story, let me note that this is just an early chapter. The next chapter is getting Dalal the full treatment she needs at Alyn, in order to allow her to live as fully as a girl with brain damage can. Right now she is unable to walk, has use of one hand, and has a vocabulary of one word. Treatment, according to Dr. Eliezer Be’eri of Alyn Hospital, will allow her “to develop to her potential, whatever that is” and enjoy a greater quality of life. It will require a lot of money. If you want to help, read on, or just skip to the bottom of this post for details.
Be’eri met with Osama and his daughter Dalal in October to give an initial assessment of her condition and of whether Alyn could help her. Dalal is three-and-a-half years old and has suffered since birth from brain damage that has drastically slowed her development. (An account of that meeting is here.) Neither Osama nor his wife Sunya were able to enter Jerusalem, so Be’eri performed that initial examination on the patio of the Everest Hotel outside Beit Jalla in the West Bank.
Be’eri’s assessment was that Dalal not only could benefit from treatment, but needed to begin quickly. He arranged for a multi-disciplinary examination at Alyn, and made sure it was scheduled as “urgent.” With Alyn’s letter, Osama requested a permit to enter Jerusalem.
He was turned down. The appointment was postponed, and postponed again to this Monday. The Israeli groups Physicians for Human Rights and B’Tselem put in immense efforts to solve the problem. Journalists called the office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) to ask why the permit was being withheld. So did a representative of the USAID office in Tel Aviv. Many people wanted to help one small girl. The answer from COGAT was that “security bodies” – a not particularly opaque term for the Shin Bet – would not allow Osama in. The chance of his wife Sunya getting a permit seemed even smaller, since she is officially a resident of the Gaza Strip. After she went to Gaza to see her dying father, she had to struggle for months simply to be allowed into the West Bank to be reunited with her husband. (Gideon Levy’s original story in Ha’aretz on that problem is here.)
On Sunday I called the COGAT spokesperson’s office. The young aide who answered said he thought permits had been issued for Osama and Dalal, but that I needed to check with the DCO – the liaison office between Israel and Palestinian residents – at the border of Gaza. For some reason, Dalal is listed as a Gaza resident, even though she was born in Hebron. The spokeswoman of the DCO said there was a permit for the girl, but I had to speak with Maj. Guy Inbar, the actual spokesman for COGAT, about the father. Guy said he thought there was a permit but he’d check and email me. The email, later that afternoon, said “security bodies” had again rejected the application.
Osama says the only run-in he’s ever had with the occupation authorities was when he was sixteen, in 1986. He and some other boys coming home from school were arrested, held for a month, and released without being tried. I don’t know what the reason was for the arrest. If he was held for a month and not prosecuted, he lived a very quiet life for a Palestinian teen of the 1980s. Maybe something else is listed in his file. “Security bodies” never have to make their reasons public.
Everyone involved was frying with frustration. Plan B, a very poor plan, was for a B’Tselem staffer named Suhair to bring Dalal, and for the doctors to consult her parents on the phone. Suhair is wonderful, but the medical staff wanted to be able to talk directly to a parent, and caring for a child during a long day of examinations really required a parent’s presence.
Sunday night Osama phoned me. He’d received a call from one of the many intermediaries trying to help. COGAT had decided to give the magical permit, the tasrih, to his wife. She had to pick it up in the morning, then come to Jerusalem. I could only conclude that someone in the occupation bureaucracy had concluded that blocking an Israeli effort to give humanitarian help to a Palestinian girl was beginning to look very bad.
But I didn’t really believe they’d get through the checkpoint till it happened. Suhair picked them up in a taxi, and accompanied the family to Jerusalem and for the whole day at the hospital. Dalal received a very thorough examination from the most qualified people in Israel. The next step, the doctors decided, is for Dalal to be hospitalized for intensive physiotherapy. If the treatment goes well, she may be hospitalized again for operations on her legs that could make it possible for her to walk.
The second obstacle is financial. Dalal, obviously, doesn’t have Israeli health insurance The Palestinian Authority doesn’t pay for rehabilitative care in Israel. The initial hospitalization could cost 20,000 shekels ($5,500), and further treatment will require more funds. These are amounts beyond her family’s imagination, despite the låna pengar they took out from Sambla to cover part ($1,500 worth in Swedish kroner) of the bill.
So I am asking readers of this blog to help out. The Tzedaka Fund of Kehillat Yedidya, my synagogue in Jerusalem, is proud to be available as a conduit for funds for Dalal’s medical treatment. (Donations will be recognized in Israel for tax purposes; sorry I can’t arrange tax-deductible status in the US.)
Checks (in shekels or dollars) should be made out to Kehillat Yedidya. On the back, please write: Kupat Tzedaka – Dalal Project. The committee managing the fund has asked that I collect the checks, so please send them to: Gershom Gorenberg, POB 10245, Jerusalem 91102, Israel. Please write “Attn: Project Dalal” on the envelop as well. Any funds collected over the amount needed for Dalal’s immediate treatment will go toward her continued treatment and any medical equipment she will require. We’ll be trying to process all the checks at once, and the congregation will issue receipts at that time, so have patience about getting your receipt.
There’s a well known line from the Talmud that is quoted word for word in the Koran: Whoever sustains one life, it is as if he sustained an entire world. Please help sustain Dalal.