Israel does not recognize 25,000 Palestinian babies born in recent months, Palestine’s Interior Ministry said Thursday.
That policy has ramifications for parents of the newborns because it means they will not be allowed to travel abroad with their children. Israel conditions recognition to babies if the Palestinian Authority officially provides names to Israel.
But the practice was stopped when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas decided to halt work and coordination with Israel after the Tel Aviv announced plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank.
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Israel, as an occupying power, controls the crossings of the West Bank and could prevent Palestinians from traveling. It also has a complete database of all Palestinian citizens.
Hospital in Jerusalem where Palestinian babies die alone
Israel allows temporary exit from Gaza for medical reasons in some cases, but not all. At the same time, it prevents or seriously delays many parents of patients from leaving, and others never apply in the first place, fearing that extensive security checks for adults will hold up their child’s exit permit and lose vital time.
Since the beginning of last year, 56 babies from Gaza were separated from their mothers and fathers, six of whom perished without a parent present, according to the hospital.
In one case, a 24-year-old mother from Gaza was permitted to travel to Jerusalem to give birth to gravely ill triplets two months early. Two weighed less than a bag of sugar.
But Hiba Swailam’s permit expired and she had to return to Gaza. She was not there when her first child died at nine days old, or two weeks later when her second baby also died. She was informed by phone.
The surviving child, Shahad, spent the first months of her life cared for by nurses, and Hiba could only see her daughter in video calls. While the baby was ready for discharge since February, no family member was able to pick her up.
After being approached for comment, Israeli authorities allowed Swailam to exit Gaza. She was permitted to travel to Jerusalem the same day Israel responded to the Guardian’s request for comment on 29 May.
Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, an Israeli medical non-profit, said more than 7,000 permits were issued for minors from Gaza last year. Less than 2,000 permits for parents were granted, suggesting most children travelled without their mothers and fathers. Mor Efrat, the group’s director for the occupied Palestinian territories, said “the Israeli government should be held accountable for the human suffering”.
Separating sick infants from their parents can have devastating impacts. Doctors believed one of the triplets who died when their mother was in Gaza had a condition for which one of the best preventative steps is breastfeeding. “I wouldn’t say that if the mother was there, they wouldn’t get it, but it would decrease the chances,” said Hatem Khammash, the head of the neonatal unit.
Undersecretary of the Palestinian Interior Ministry Yousef Harb told the Palestinian official news agency, WAFA, that “the ministry issues all needed documents for Palestinians including passports, ID cards, death certificates and issued since May more than 25,000 birth certificates.
A vicious political rivalry between the Palestinian political factions in the West Bank and Gaza has also deepened a health crisis. The West Bank-based Palestinian Authority (PA), the only group Israel will liaise with, has been accused of cutting medical aid to Gaza to press Hamas to cede control of the strip – a charge the PA denies.
Saleh al-Ziq, the head of the PA office for Gaza that forwards exit permit applications to Israel, said it advised that sick children only be accompanied by people over 45, whose permits were usually processed more quickly by Israeli authorities as they were deemed to be less of a risk.
The result is that rather than parents, who are usually younger, Makassed is full of grandparents. The hospital has to cover their accommodation and food, and has set up trailers for them to sleep in. But in some cases, they too have to return to Gaza and the babies are left completely alone.
At the paediatric ICU, Risiq picked up a large green book filled with her scribbled records of admittances, many of them premature babies.
Political rivalries exacerbate problem
One newborn, Reema Abu Eita, came with her grandmother from Gaza for emergency spinal cord surgery. It was delayed as she had an infection, said Risiq, looking down at the baby, her eyes closed and chest pumping. Abu Eita’s father, an ambulance driver, managed to get a permit to visit his daughter, but the baby died before returning to Gaza.
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“Harb noted that Israel is using this issue to pressure and blackmail Palestinians where the most affected by the policy are parents of babies who cannot travel with them.”
Israel has not recognized 25,000 Palestinian babies born in occupied territories in recent months, with ramifications for parents now unable to travel abroad with their children https://t.co/Wclrx5VOEH
— DAILY SABAH (@DailySabah) August 20, 2020
The [Israeli] occupation practices the blackmail against our Palestinian people and this is not something new,” he added. Ahmed Asmar contributed to this report from Ankara
Anadolu with additional input by GVS News Desk