Stories from Gaza: the story of Fatma al-Masri, 18 months old, who died awaiting an Israeli-issued exit permit to travel to East Jerusalem for medical treatment

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4 April 2023

Subject to Israel’s illegal closure and blockade since 2007 and torn apart by successive, devastating Israeli military offensives that have killed thousands of Palestinians, Gaza is mostly talked about when a military offensive is underway. But Gaza is much more than that.

Gaza houses more than two million Palestinians—the vast majority of whom are refugees expelled from their homes and lands in 1948 and who are still denied their right to return—whose stories deserve to be told and heard. Today, Al Mezan launches a new weekly series of testimonies and stories from Palestinians living in the Strip.

Israel’s apartheid regime continues to undermine every single aspect of Palestinian life, making everyday matters—such as access to healthcare or marriage to their loved ones—a struggle against an inherently discriminatory colonial structure. Yet, all the implications of this vicious regime remain untold. In this series, we want to give space to victims to tell their stories and speak out about the gross violations of their inalienable rights.

Today's story is Fatma's.

Fatma al-Masri was born on 9 October 2019. In July 2021, she was diagnosed with a ventricular septal defect, for which no treatment is available in Gaza. In December 2021, the Palestinian Ministry of Health issued her a medical referral and confirmed three medical appointments at the Makassed Hospital in East Jerusalem.

After the Israeli authorities did not grant the child permits to travel for the first two appointments, Jalal al-Masri, Fatma's father, sought legal support from Al Mezan to obtain a permit to travel for the third and final appointment. Although our lawyers contacted the Israeli Coordination and Liaison Administration (CLA) at Erez, Fatma’s permit was never granted.

Over the course of several months of denied care, Fatma’s health deteriorated. She ultimately died on 25 March 2022 at the Gaza European Hospital. She was 18-month-old. Her father told Al Mezan: “We had Fatma after eight years of marriage and a long journey through fertility treatments. When she was born, I felt like the happiest man in the world. When she died, her mother and I lost everything.”

As part of our activities, we provide legal assistance to individual patients in Gaza whose requests for permits to leave for medical treatment have been denied, significantly delayed, or left unanswered by the Israeli authorities. According to the World Health Organization, the Israeli authorities delayed or denied 33% of the 20,295 patient permit applications submitted in 2022. These include Fatma’s, who died awaiting an Israeli-issued exit permit.