I went to our Pediatric ICU at the Emek Medical Center in Afula in search of M.Z. from Gaza. I heard that his baby daughter was flown here receiving special care using a machine that temporarily takes over the functioning of the heart and lungs. Our mobile team with specialized machine, the ECMO, (Extra Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation) is the only of its kind in Israel.
I found M.Z. sitting alone outside on the other side of the building, smoking and looking dazed. Thus our conversation began. After introducing myself and shaking his hand, I asked about his daughter. “She’s only one year and eight months old … and the only one of my eight children who looks like me.” His eyes were red, tired, and reflected great pain.
M.Z. told me how the little girl one day could not breathe and how he rushed her, without incident, from Gaza to Soroka Hospital in Beersheva. After several days there her condition rapidly and seriously deteriorated and that’s when our team flew in.
M.Z. was angry at the fateful turn of events that had befallen his daughter and could only refer to Allah (God) for mercy. He was grateful that our people were doing everything possible to save his child. We began discussing politics and the direction our two peoples were heading. There we were — a Jewish grandfather (me) and a Muslim father of a gravely ill child from Gaza — talking like old friends, almost like family. The mere fact that he was here while our physicians fought to save the life of his little girl is noteworthy these days. Did we solve anything? Politically, certainly not … medically, we are hoping for the best
That first encounter with M.Z. was on a Thursday. The following Sunday I learned from the attending physician, Dr. Merzel, that there was no change in the little girl’s condition. Her name? Hadil.
I again walked across the hospital campus to find her father and this time I found him in the simple room where parents of critically ill children could sleep. The Pediatric ICU is not a happy place and he was not a happy man. The gravity of Hadil’s condition was etched in his face as he murmured over and over, “alhamdulillah”(praise be to God).
In Hebrew we say, “Baruch Hashem” and he flipped between the two languages. We greeted each other with a sincere Middle Eastern hug and kisses on the cheek. M.Z. was alone and it was important to me, in the name of humanity and of my people, to provide him with some personalized contact. “Come, my friend, let me buy you some coffee, something to eat and we’ll go to my office. You need a change of scenery.”
WE ATE AND DRANK TOGETHER, sitting on opposite sides of my desk and once again spoke as if we had known each other for years. So natural, so right. I then accompanied him back to the ICU where he could be near his daughter. When I left him, we both glanced skywards and opened our hands, acknowledging that Hadil’s fate rested with Allah, God or whatever name we mortals choose to give our Creator.
The next morning Dr. Merzel informed me that Hadil’s condition was extremely grave and that she was not responding. The end was near. With a heavy heart, I walked over to find M.Z. He was not there so I looked into the room to see his daughter, jaundiced, so very small and vulnerable, attached to the ECMO that pumped blood and oxygen through her failing body.
A moment later, M.Z. entered the hallway with his wife who had been rushed here from Gaza, accompanied by his cousin. She could not bring herself to turn the corner to look upon her daughter … to say goodbye. I respectfully stood well off to the side, as did the nurses, as M.Z. encouraged her forward. Tragedy is any parent having to experience such a moment in their lives.
Later, in the hallway, M.Z. introduced me to his wife and cousin. I held her hand between my own and we looked into one another’s eyes. Nothing needed to be said.
Later that afternoon as I was leaving to return home, M.Z. and his cousin stopped me with urgency on their faces. “Please”, pleaded M.Z. “My cousin and wife were only given permission by the authorities to enter Israel for twelve hours. They want to stay with me tonight because the end of Hadil is very near. Can you help us?”
What a macabre situation I was faced with — not really knowing how to attain the permission they needed. I immediately contacted the head of our security who then put me in touch with a uniformed policeman, Reuven, who was stationed permanently at the hospital.
SO BEGAN A MYRIAD OF TELEPHONE CALLS to first the central police authority and then to the army who was ultimately responsible for any Palestinian entering Israel from either Gaza or the West Bank. The hours were ticking by. If we did not succeed in getting to the right person, then the cousin and wife, when attempting to cross back into Gaza, would be arrested and interrogated as to their whereabouts beyond the time that was allotted them. Such a scenario was incomprehensible to me considering the nightmare they were living.
We had run smack into the steel reinforced concrete wall of military bureaucracy. It was then late in the afternoon and I realized that I was in deep water far over my head. I suggested to the cousin that he take a taxi back to Gaza to avoid his being unjustifiably arrested and that we would find a solution for the mother of little Hadil. They all agreed.
M.Z. later remembered the name of the Palestinian liaison officer at the governmental level in Gaza who helped negotiate matters of extenuating circumstances — but he did not have his phone number. He tried calling a relative in Gaza who might have that number, but his mobile phone could not make the necessary connection. I took him to our administration office where the only international phone line was located. We were successful in finding his relative and in getting that final phone number.
I spoke with the liaison officer who was familiar with the story and he thanked me for intervening on behalf of the family. He also said that he would personally handle the contacts with his Israeli counterpart to guarantee the safe passage of the family when they returned to Gaza. I handed the phone to M.Z. who spoke and shed tears as he thanked the man for his help.
The next day at 9:40 AM, Hadil passed away. With a heavy heart, I walked over to face the bereaved parents. The three of us sat quietly together in their room, as the mother — dazed and broken — mumbled repeatedly: “alhamdulillah, alhamdulillah”. M.Z. cried as we parted with a long hug and kisses on both cheeks. We stared long, hard into each other’s eyes and just nodded.
Our hospital arranged for an ambulance from Gaza to come and take M.Z., his wife, and the body of Hadil back home.
This sad story graphically illustrates a reality of life here that is hidden from the world’s media. Israeli technology, medical expertise, and human kindness are available to Palestinians in need. We were not able to save little Hadil, but we tried.
Larry Rich is the Director of Development & International Public Relations at the Emek Medical Center in Israel, and the author of Voices From Armageddon.
This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews)
First published in Israel21c, June 25, 2006.
Reprinted with permission