Israel closing Rafah a ‘death sentence’ for thousands of ill and wounded

The stories of three people who desperately need to leave Gaza for treatment, and the dark future they are staring at as a result of Israel’s actions.

Sadeel, jaundiced, intubated, swollen
Sick people including baby Sadeel cannot leave through the Rafah crossing [Abdelhakim Abu Riash/Al Jazeera]

Deir el-Balah, Gaza – Sadeel Hamdan was just about six weeks old when Israel launched its relentless war on Gaza.

Now she lies silently on a paediatric hospital bed in Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital – weak, intubated, her belly swollen and skin jaundiced.

Three months ago, doctors managed to get her name on a list of patients who badly needed to leave Gaza for treatment overseas.

But then, just days before she was to be evacuated, Israel invaded Rafah and closed the only crossing available for the sick to leave the besieged enclave, trapping Sadeel and many others.

Abdul Majeed, struggling to breathe

Abdul Majeed al-Sabakhi, 20, lives on an oxygen respirator in the hospital.

Speaking is a struggle for the youth who has had cystic fibrosis since childhood.

In the first month of Israel’s war on Gaza, the Israeli army bombed the house next door to the al-Sabakhis’ home in the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza. The impact destroyed their home as well.

“That day, I was pulled out of under the rubble, nearly suffocated by the toxic smoke and dust,” he recalls.

Abdul Majeed lies in ahospital bed, emaciated and stuggling for breath
Abdul Majeed in his hospital bed, emaciated and struggling for breath, wholly dependent on the oxygen ventilator [Abdelhakim Abu Riash/Al Jazeera]

Abdul Majeed spent about a month in intensive care on ventilators, further damaging his lungs to the point where he is now dependent on them.

“I lived almost normally before the war. I walked, moved around and attended university without obstacles,” Abdul Majeed says.

“But after the war … I became unable to do anything.”

Displaced with his parents, four brothers and two sisters to Rafah and then Deir el-Balah, he suffered in the tent and eventually had to be taken to hospital to stay on oxygen.

Abdul Majeed was supposed to travel, accompanied by his 21-year-old brother Osama, for urgent lung surgery, but then came news of the Rafah crossing being closed.

“Closing the crossing is a death sentence for me and many patients like me,” Abdul Majeed says, gasping for breath as the effort of speaking shakes his frail body.

“Every day I am delayed, my chance of survival decreases.

“I’ve lost so much weight because my weak lungs mean I can’t even eat.”

Osama stays with Abdul Majeed in the hospital, day and night.

“Before the war, we used to go out together, stay up late with friends, and have fun. Despite his illness, his condition was stable,” Osama says.

“Abdel Majeed’s not just my brother; he’s my companion and friend.”

Brother's hand holding aphone with photos of a healthier Abdul Majeed
Abdul Majeed’s health deteriorated drastically during the war. Here, a photo of him in healthier times is held up to compare with his current state [Abdelhakim Abu Riash/Al Jazeera]

Ahed, a young mother immobilised

Ahed Abu Holi nearly lost her leg when the roof of their home collapsed on top of her family when Israel bombed it two months ago.

Her leg was in terrible shape, tissues and bones badly damaged. After five reconstructive surgeries, all of which have been unsuccessful, her doctors said they could do little else to help her and recommended that she see specialists overseas.

Otherwise, she was told, the only solution available to them would be to amputate her leg.

Now, the 25-year-old mother cannot move, spending her days in a hospital bed with her leg heavily bandaged and bolted.

Her two-year-old son is being looked after by her family, but she cannot see him because she worries that he could catch something in the hospital.

Her husband and sister take turns staying with her there, ducking out to fetch necessities, as her husband has done, leaving her for a short period to find some food for them.

“Two days before my travel date, the crossing was closed … and it doesn’t look like it’ll reopen,” Ahed says.

Ahed's bolted and bandaged leg lies in front of her on her hospital bed, immobilising her
Ahed is terrified that she will lose her leg, which would affect her young, newlywed life, hopes and dreams [Abdelhakim Abu Riash/Al Jazeera]

“I had really hoped I’d be able to travel. I waited so long and suffered so much. For two months, my life has been at a standstill.

“I can’t see or care for my only child. I’m in agony every day when they change the dressing on my wound.”

The wounds on Ahed’s leg have not healed, a common complication in Gaza now, where the population is extremely malnourished, their bodies too weak to recover.

Depending on how her condition progresses, doctors say they may have to amputate because there will be no other way to save Ahed.

“All I want is to walk again before it’s too late,” she says.

“I’m still young, at the beginning of my married life, and I want to continue my life and take care of my child. Amputation is a nightmare for me if the crossing remains closed.”

Sadeel, a baby struggling for her life

Sadeel was diagnosed with an enlarged and cirrhotic liver and enlarged spleen at six months old, and her condition has gotten worse, day after day.

Her mother, Heba, 32, is constantly by her side, fretting but trying to cope as her daughter’s condition worsens.

“My daughter had jaundice from birth, and her condition worsened with displacement until her stomach swelled noticeably, prompting us to take her to the hospital,” Heba says.

Heba strokes her baby's forehead
Heba has not left her baby’s side, constantly praying and hoping that a miracle will happen to save her young life [Abdelhakim Abu Riash/Al Jazeera]

Doctors say the treatment Sadeel needs is not available in Gaza, which makes it even harder that the crossing was closed just as she got the approval to go.

“The news of the crossing closure was like a lightning bolt,” says Heba, a mother of four.

“I had prepared to travel, and my children were prepared for me to accompany their sister for treatment. But everything changed.”

On May 7, Israeli tanks invaded the Rafah border crossing, displacing up to one million Palestinians from all over Gaza who had sought refuge there since the war began.

Sadeel’s condition is critical, with doctors having to perform an urgent procedure to drain the fluid accumulating in her abdominal cavity as a result of her condition.

“It’s so cruel to have to watch my daughter die slowly in front of me, unable to do anything,” Heba says.

“What is my child’s fault? A 10-month-old child is suffering!”


Gaza’s Ministry of Health (MoH) says there are more than 20,000 people who are either wounded or suffer from chronic or terminal illnesses like cancer, diabetes and cardiac problems.

“Since [Israel] occupied the Rafah crossing, no sick or wounded people have been able to leave Gaza, nor have those who were abroad for treatment been able to return home,” Ashraf al-Qudra, a MoH spokesperson said.

The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor said in a statement on May 18 that the total number of affected people could be broken down into about 11,000 injured people and more than 10,000 people with chronic or terminal illnesses.

The monitor called on the international community and humanitarian organisations to pressure Israeli authorities to open crossings out of Gaza, particularly Rafah.

“Israel’s continued closure of the crossing since the seventh of this month has intensified the humanitarian crisis for Palestinians,” the statement said, adding that it “accelerates the commission of genocide, disrupts the flow of humanitarian and medical supplies, and further cripples the already limited functioning of local hospitals in the Strip.”

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, said in a post on X that Israel’s treatment of civilians in Gaza consistently puts lives and health at grave risk.

“Entry of emergency medical teams and medical supplies through the Rafah border crossing into Gaza has been blocked since 6 May. Inside the Strip, supplies of essential medicines and fuel are very low, and movement is limited due to security constraints,” he wrote.

“We have lost the words to describe the situation in Gaza. It is high time for a ceasefire and peace for the civilians there.”

Source: Al Jazeera