Middle East

Some Palestinian patients in East Jerusalem hospitals will be sent back to Gaza by Israel

By Abeer Salman, Jeremy Diamond and Mick Krever, CNN

Jerusalem CNN  —  Israeli authorities are preparing to send a group of Palestinian patients who were being treated in East Jerusalem hospitals back to Gaza this week.

The group of 22 Gazan Palestinians includes five newborn babies and their mothers, cancer patients now in remission, and a few companions who had accompanied them, according to hospital officials. They had all received permission from Israeli authorities to travel to Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem for advanced medical care – most before Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel.

The Israeli defense ministry body responsible for Palestinian affairs, COGAT, has for months been pushing East Jerusalem hospital officials for a list of patients who no longer require in-patient medical treatment in order to send them back to Gaza, those officials told CNN.

The patients on that list, which has been seen by CNN, are expected to board buses for the Kerem Shalom crossing on the border between Israel and Gaza on Wednesday.

Oday, a baby born at Makassed Hospital who will soon be sent back to Gaza along with his mother and twin brother.

Among them will be Nima Abu Garrara, who was brought from Rafah to East Jerusalem pregnant with twins and gave birth on October 5. Since then, all her twins have known is the safety of a room at Makassed Hospital. Soon, that will be torn away, traded for the reality of war.

“If I go back with the twins… where do I go with them? Where would I get diapers and milk?” she asked, in tears. “Gaza is not the same anymore.”

For months, Abu Garrara and two other mothers have shared the same small room, which overflows with baby accessories. Suitcases and duffel bags are piled in every corner. Baby bottles, cans of formula, and stuffed animals occupy every available table.

“I might go back and then they invade Rafah,” she said of the Israeli military. “I’ll be the one responsible for anything that harms them. I was dying when I came here and stayed with them here to protect them,” she added, referring to her twins.

But staying in East Jerusalem is no longer an option.

In response to a CNN inquiry, COGAT confirmed that Palestinians from Gaza who “are not in need of further medical care” are being sent back to Gaza, and that COGAT would coordinate the return with international aid organizations. “In cases where there is a need for further medical treatment, COGAT arranges their stay with the hospitals to safeguard their health,” the agency said.

Like everyone on the removal lists with whom CNN spoke, Abu Garrara says she is deeply torn between the safety of East Jerusalem and pining for her family – and a home that has been irrevocably changed by Israel’s unrelenting, months-long aerial and ground campaign.

“My daughter is there,” Asmaa Al Dabje, another mother, said. “She needs me. Every time she speaks to me, she asks when I’m coming back. Every time there’s an airstrike, children go to hug their mothers, and mine has no one to hug.”

As a nurse, she says she has spent the war feeling like she’s betrayed her professional duty to help.

“I lost 43 of my colleagues. I lost family members, friends, and neighbors. My house is wiped away. I’m afraid that I’ll go back and suddenly regret putting my new child at risk.”

Dr. Fadi Atrash, CEO of Augusta Victoria Hospital.

Hannan Sharadan says she spent seven years trying to conceive before she became pregnant with twins.

“I’m scared because there’s no ceasefire,” she said while rocking her son Abdullah. “Life has become very expensive. There are diseases spreading. Infections. It’s not a normal life.”

This is not the first time that patients from Gaza being treated in East Jerusalem hospitals have returned home since war broke out, hospital officials told CNN, but it is the first time they are being compelled to do so.

Before October, a third of those receiving care at the Augusta Victoria Hospital were patients from Gaza who needed advanced cancer treatment.

“We refused to send them back,” the CEO of the hospital, Dr. Fadi Atrash, said. “And we came to an agreement that they are still under treatment.”

But Israeli authorities continued to put pressure on him, he said, adding that they were now out of options.

“It’s not our call, at the end of the day. And this is really frustrating. We [have not been] able to help people in Gaza since the beginning of the war. As doctors, this is our daily feeling, that we are not able to do anything,” Atrash said.

Mohammed, who was treated for thyroid cancer and asked CNN not to use his last name due to privacy concerns, says he has been separated from his six children since coming to East Jerusalem in late September.

“The one that breaks my heart the most is my son Hamza,” he said, explaining that the 11-year-old is blind.

“I’m torn. The only wish I have in life is to go back home. I regret even coming here for treatment. I wish I could be with them, because I know how they need me.”

In the crowded room at Makassed Hospital, the women are preparing for the impending trip they have no choice but to take. Sweets and snacks are packed into the suitcases they will soon drag across the Kerem Shalom border crossing.

Al Dabie, the nurse, says she wants to return. She’s packed a bag with her daughter’s favorite candy.

“Whatever God wants to happen to us over there will happen over here. I don’t want to stay here. I want to go home.”

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